Back to the Adventures in Girly the intrepid Camper Van!

The naive twosome continued on their adventures  May 2001…..

We were heading in the general direction of Italy – we had a ‘plan’.

1. We’d start our working/travelling lark from Italy.

2. We’d get there and Mark would instantly pick up a teaching job.

3. Everyone had told us that there was a lack of English teachers right across mainland Europe.  Simple!

But first, we were on holiday!  We were going to meander down to the south of France, turn left and head into Italy on the coastal route.

So, from Ghent, we, of course,  headed almost back on ourselves and visited Luxembourg.

We pulled up at the main train station – we’d been told that we could pick up a map from there and maybe some advice about where to stay.

We parked next to another camper van which made ours look tiny in comparison!  It had German number plates and looked altogether interesting and the biz to us!

The owner popped out  and we took a chance and asked if he spoke English as our German was non-existent!

He stared at us for a moment or two and then broke into a broad smile – G’day! he said!  I don’t speak English, I speak pretty good Australian though!

Turns out that he and his wife had just bought the van in Germany and were going to travel around Europe in it before selling it again at the end of their trip.  It’s the done thing apparently!

Our new Australian friends – Frank and Brenda – showed us around their van and we chatted over a cup of tea!  (We found that friends are made instantly when travelling in a camper!)

We exchanged email addresses and off we went!  This was in 2001 … we are still in contact to this day – after a half hour encounter in a car park in Luxembourg!

We found a campsite in the north of this tiny country.  It was like staying in a slightly tatty country park!

There looked to be a lot of long term residents with campers that really weren’t going  anywhere fast!

We spent a couple of days exploring Luxembourg City where they were hosting a special sculpture exhibition of full sized cows ..

They were dotted all around the city, everyone of them painted in a different design or pattern or advertisement, standing up, lying down, on the street corners, tucked into the shop fronts, down alleyways …

Luxembourg

Luxembourg

It was fun spotting them! Then there was the countryside with it’s magnificent German style palaces, Luxembourg packs a lot of architectural eye-candy in for such a small place – and the fuel is cheap too!

We spent a couple of weeks after Luxembourg wending our way down the Eastern side of France heading for the south ..

Oops barn on fire

Oops barn on fire, snapped on our way down to ITALY!!

Puy en Velay

Nancy, Dijon, Puys en Velay, Aix en Provence, Avignon and finally Saintes Maries de la Mer where the Camargue National park is and it’s beautiful horses.

We arrived in Saintes Maries just as a big, huge festival was about to take place.  Sounded fun – taking some icon Madonna through the town, down the beach and into the sea…

Then we discovered that not only was it a big festival with folks coming from all over Europe, these folks were all gypsies.

Our instincts told us that we should leave and come back another time …. we didn’t listen!

Just outside the town is a gorgeous stately home with beautiful gardens so we parked up in their carpark just inside their very grand gates and walked to the house .. which was closed up and locked down!

So we walked around the sides of the house, gazed at the garden for a minute or two and then went back to have a cuppa tea ….

First thing we noticed was that there was glass all over the drivers side on the floor. ….

The next was that the window had been smashed….

We got inside Girly and immediately saw that our rucksack with all, I mean ALL our camera stuff was gone and so was my handbag with my purse inside.

The rucksack had been tucked out of sight behind the drivers seat and the handbag was under the dining table.

Usually when we left the camper we closed all the curtains including the ones that went all the way around the cab of the camper, but we forgot (newbies that we were.)

We didn’t have a mobile phone, so we headed to town to the police station to report the robbery.  The station was closed for lunch.

We went to a pay phone and called the insurance company and you can imagine our delight when they informed us that all our worldly goods were covered ….. by our home insurance policy in the UK.

Ummm … we didn’t have a home insurance policy, we didn’t have a home – the camper was our home.  We specifically took out the insurance with this company because their policy clearly stated that camera gear was covered.  The ‘best’ part of this story was that the company stuffed us beautifully.  We argued, we read the specific wording to them and still they wouldn’t agree.  So, they told us to send us the policy statement showing where it covered the camera equipment.  Now, remember, we are living in a camper van, we are in a foreign country and rather stressed from the break-in.  In our haste, we bought an envelope and popped the whole agreement in the post to them.  WE DIDN’T PHOTOCOPY IT.

We followed up a few weeks later, and they emailed a link to the policy wording WHICH THEY HAD CHANGED. Of course, we had no proof because we were dumb enough to send them the original.

Lesson learned.

Mark nearly got into a fight with a gypsy after coming out of the phone box, trying to get money for a wilted ‘lucky’ twig of shrub of some description!   It very nearly wasn’t very lucky for that particular gypsy!

From that night on and for a long long time afterwards I refused to ‘wild camp’.  It was touch and go as to whether we were even going to continue, then we discovered AIRES!

Parking just for us campers!  Usually free or a nominal amount to stay there.  Safety in numbers.  The aires usually have water freely available to top up the tanks and drains for the icky stuff!  Some even have electric points for hook up!

There are a distinct lack of photos from this time, we had a few that we’d managed to have developed before the cameras were stolen (pre-digital!) but there were photos from Holland and after that were completely gone.

We bought a reasonably priced SLR in Avignon or somewhere near there – but it wasn’t the greatest!  Hey-ho!  We slowly recovered from the shock of being broken into.  I didn’t even want to have Girly out of our sight for the longest time!

We also bought a mobile phone before we headed much further  - ” Will it work outside of France?”  Of COURSE it will.

2 centimetres into Italy at Ventimiglia – it stopped working.

However …. On the MAJOR plus side – we’d made it to ITALIA!  :-D

 

Near the border of France and Italy.

 

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Encouragement needed!!

Give me some hints on how to optimise the blog! Is a snappier title needed? I’ve dramatically cut down on the amount of words and increased the photos – so that it’s just a quick no more than 5 minute read!
I suppose it has a lot to do with the erratic gaps between posts! I do TRY to find time! And to all you blogging Queens and Kings out there, and you KNOW who you are, I am not worthy! How you find the time to write when you have so many other things on your plate beats me! You are amazing and I will do my best to emulate you!

So, what do I need to just get someone to read the post and then indicate that they have read it – I don’t even need a comment! (Always wonderful tho!)

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Giselle & Mark’s AMERICAN Adventure Pt 2!

So, following on from the Adventure Pt1…..

We left Salt Lake City.  We had scheduled a stay over there, but there was something about it I didn’t like, so we moved on.

After visiting the salt pans we carried on to the Utah/Nevada border – a real wild west border town feel to it.  Wendover was it’s name.  It seemed like East Wendover, Utah had the cheap lodgings for the manual workers (Salt production, judging by the caked on salt over the undersides of the vast majority of cars and trucks there. Then there was West Wendover, Nevada….  Imagine walking up a slight incline with every conceivable dingy motel chain lining the street, imagine reaching the top of the incline and looking down on a mini-Vegas.  That’s what West Wendover, Nevada was like.  As soon as you hit the Nevada border, there were casinos right to the end of town.  The funny thing was, there were hardly any folk around – I mean Wendover is REALLY in the sticks!  Middle of the back of beyond!  How the casinos made money, beats me.

We found an ok place to stay – not too ratty, anyway in East Wendover.  We took a walk to go and find somewhere for dinner – there wasn’t anywhere in East Wendover but we discovered that the casinos all did food in one form or another so we chose the closest one – nameless as far as I was concerned.  We entered the blissfully air-conditioned building – this being the first time that either of us had really been in a casino to find that there are no windows.  I found that really odd until Mark pointed out that the owners didn’t want the punters to have any outside distractions or even to know what time it was.   It was a really sad and sorry place…. And empty.

The food was buffet style and excellent value.  Salads, meats, fish, seafood, pasta, pizza, chinese food (with grill chef) and all sorts of different desserts ranging from cakes and pastries to ice-cream with what seemed like an unlimited supply of different toppings.

My main memory of that experience was watching the table near us with 6 enormous hairy bikers eat plate after plate piled pyramid high with doughnuts, cream buns, cakes, pastries .. then the ice-cream – bowl after bowl with different toppings.  I’m not sure what amazed me more, the quantity or the fact that was ALL they chose from the buffet – nothing savoury at all!

We didn’t feel tempted to gamble there in the least!  I think there were about half a dozen people in there including us.  The busiest part of the casino was the buffet area.

The following day we drove the entire breadth  of Nevada, not much else to say about that really!  Big country, straight-as-die roads, we went 50 miles or more without seeing a town or even a house along the way.  We ended up in the town of Winnemucca near the Nevada/California state line.

We found a Motel 6 – the only motel seemingly that had laundry facilities!  It also had a swimming pool, but that day was the day the weather decided to have a blip and it was cold, dull, windy and drizzly – nice combo!

The highlight of this laundry stop was the Basque meal we had at The Martin Hotel (http://www.themartinhotel.com/) REALLY good!  We had to have a large doggy bag at the end of the evening, the food just kept coming!

The following day – still rubbish weather we headed to Californ-i-a!  As a little aside, I had lived in California in the 80′s and hadn’t been back to visit since the early 90′s, I was stupidly excited about going back and showing Mark where I lived.  It was Mark’s first time there, having ‘done’ the East Coast around the same time as I was on the West coast. (We didn’t know each other then.)

Our first stop in California, coming in from the top as it were had to be Lake Tahoe.  We stayed near the Nevada/California border in Kings Beach on the North Shore, great little place just across the road from the beach and the lake.  We had  a little rustic cabin complete with porch. ( http://www.tahoecedarglen.com/)

We had a romantic idea to get up at stupid o’clock the following morning and photograph the sunrise ….

5.45 – Mark wakes me  - Quick! He says, I saw the weather forecast last night, Sunrise is at 6am.  So we stumble out the door wrapped up against the cold ,(more on that in a mo..) get across the road to the beach and waited …. and waited …. and waited some more!  7.15 the sun finally made its appearance over the tops of the mountains! Not sure which forecast Mark was looking at!  It was worth the wait though, the mists on the surface of the lake making the speedboats look like they were suspended above the water!

The cold … Remember, this is August – in California.  We heard that the night we stayed on the North Shore the thermometer showed 0°c!  No wonder we went hunting for extra blankets in the night!

Luckily, the sunrise bought a much nicer day and we spent most of the day driving around the lake and finding our way to a smaller lake called Fallen Leaf so we could sit on the beach with our picnic and enjoy the sun!

We were really happy that the sun was out again, as you can see!

Emerald Bay was full of powerboats enjoying a beautiful Saturday!

Reluctantly after going all the way around the lake we took the road to Napa Valley and our next stop.  This time for 3 nights  - we were in need of a few days of no packing!

We were looking forward to the following day …. a Napa Valley wine tour with a great friendly company called Platypus Tours (http://www.platypustours.com/)

And that adventure and the San Francisco experience will wait for another day!

the WordPress/Facebook dilemma!

Should you comment on Facebook or on the WordPress blog itself?

I think on the Blog, then the comments don’t get lost in the mists of time!

It also shows that you’ve read the blog!

Now…. How do I sign up for blogs on my Kindle? Anyone know how?

Giselle & Marks AMERICAN adventure!

The Rocky Mountains, CO

As a little break from our ‘Girly’ adventures, I was just thinking back to summer 2009 and the amazing time we had in the States!

I think it has become the rule rather than the exception to do a road trip when visiting the US – especially if you happen to be near the South-West!

So here is a bit of what we experienced!

After an amazing house-sitting experience in Minnesota – (several blogs in it’s own right!) we flew, with our friends, Conny and Craig,  from St Pauls, Minnesota to Denver, Colorado – a rather bumpy ride especially as we approached the Rockies, the weather got even worse – we never took our seatbelts off  for the entire flight.  The poor guy in the seat ahead of us was sick the entire time – he used up his and all his neighbours bags – I wonder who had the pleasure of dealing with them afterwards?.

Our friends have 3 wonderful cabins just on the border of the Rocky Mountain National park, on the Big Thompson River in Estes Park – absolutely idyllic!  One is available for rent – www.estesparkcabin-bearpaw.com

Another one of the cabins is never rented out commercially, it’s kept just for them and for when friends want a break.

Bear Paw - Estes Park, CO

This was the start of our South-Western adventure and our friends made sure it was a memorable start!  We drove through part of the Rockies National park,  across the continental divide, saw elks galore by the side of the road, even saw a marmot! The views across the mountains were nothing short of spectacular!  Awe inspiring panoramas!  It was the beginning of August, yet there was still snow on the mountain tops – it never goes.  When we got out at a view point – I was positively cold!

Craig, Mark, Giselle & Conny - Rocky Mountain National Park CO

We’d heard that we’d better be careful near the cabins because of bears, but although we heard tales of the bears and the things the locals did to try and stop them breaking into cars, garages (There was a really funny story where the folks managed to finally stop the bears going into the garage and stealing the food from the freezer by rigging up some sort of enormous cats cradle inside the garage…. I’ll have to ask for the details again!)  outside freezers …… you get the picture!

We didn’t get to see even a glimpse!  The folks were doing their best to persuade us they were there though, every day we were there the neighbours would come over and ask if we’d seen the bear the night before… No?  Oh, he was right here in front of the cabins …. Next time!  We’ll stay up on bear watch!

Swapping bear stories under the gorgeous Afghan tent.

We took our friends back to the airport in Denver in their car and then once we’d dropped them off, we started our South-Western American Adventure in earnest!  We simply couldn’t have done it without our friends help, we will be forever grateful for their generosity and trust in lending us their car which over the next 4 weeks we put nearly 4,000 miles on the clock! Also for the loan of Craigs Sat Nav – better known as HELGA.  We wouldn’t have made it without her help!!

We drove through the stunning scenery of Colorado heading vaguely north-west until we, at last,  got to the border with Utah where I’d spotted a great name on the map and wanted to stay there – Dinosaur!

Proof it exists! Close to the Colorado/Utah border

The name kinda lived up to the place!  It was pretty much a broken down town and looking rather worn out- there were huge plaster-of-paris dinosaur models dotted around the town all of which had seen better days!  And a surplus of scrap yards with piles of rusting cars.  I think that if we’d had more time, visiting the Dinosaur National Monument  – a 60 mile round trip may have been interesting…. We drove up and down the main drag a couple of times to try and pick the least grotty of the motels along the way….  It took considerable courage to choose one! The one we chose was truly the best of the bunch – at least it was clean, with a very noisy air-con unit – we couldn’t hear each other when it was running!  We has a cool-box (thank you Conny & Craig again!) and, as there wasn’t actually ANYWHERE to eat out in town, we scrabbled around in the box and ate tortillas and cheese warmed up in a little microwave provided in the room (according to the old lady that run the place the rooms were mostly rented to workmen passing through).

The slightly less than salubrious motel we chose!

The itinerary I’d put together was, luckily open to changes – I’d written that we’d make our way to Salt Lake City, have a look around and find somewhere to stay there.

We arrived in SLC in 100° heat and hardly any water in the car, so it was our priority to find a store and buy some bottled water.  You’d think that a ‘dry’ state like Utah would encourage stores to sell piles of water – but we actually never found a supermarket! And, yes, we seemed to be in the right area – lots of big shops all together – it was incredible!

We finally, finally found a dusty corner shop in town within sight of the Temple.  I was so grateful!

After that, we felt we could actually take a look around the Temple square, we felt we should as we were there.  The Temple is a striking piece of architecture which took 40 years to build – not too long really!

The grounds around the temple were surprisingly beautiful, stuffed full of colourful flower beds, lovely fountains and water features with tasteful sculptures dotted about.  However … after all the water I downed once I found it in the dusty shop, took it’s toll and I needed, I mean I REALLY needed the bathroom!  I can safely say that it was the most uncomfortable half hour or so while we went around in circles trying to follow the signs to the toilets!

A couple of black suited (Remember it’s over 100°?!) guys approached us and asked  if they could help  in anyway to make our visit a better experience – I just blurted out – “Where the hell are the bathrooms?” !!  They were a little taken aback!

To be perfectly honest the whole place gave me the creeps and we decided that, as it was only 3pm, we’d head off and get closer to Nevada and stay there instead – I just didn’t want to be there!  I’m pretty sure it was the combination of not easily finding a store or bathroom and the temperature being over 100° that really did it!  I’m willing to bet that it’s got a real heart somewhere, but we missed it!

Having recently watched The World’s Fastest Indian with Anthony Hopkins,  I was surprised that the Salt Lakes were so… well …. so VAST!  They start just outside of the city limits and we drive for at least an hour with the salt flats our constant companion all the way!  We reached the Bonneville salt flats where part of the film was made and just sat for a while and stared!

Bonneville Salt Flats, UT

What an amazing place!  Blindingly white salt that looks just like snow – however it confuses the body and mind because it’s 105° &  smells salty!

Mark feeling confused with the 'Is it snow or is it salt?' syndrome.

We were definitely heading into the wild west!  And our adventure had only just begun!

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Just checking out what this is!

After just starting out on the blogging lark, we moved! It’s been a ‘bit of a do’ as they say, but hopefully, I’m building up my energies once again and – well…. I’m BAAAAAACK!!!

Going it alone in ‘Girly’ – the story continues…

Now!  Where were we?  Ah yes, we were just about to leave the comfort of our friends hospitality in Holland and finally go it alone in Girly!

Perhaps someone can remind me where on earth this is!!

This really was rather nerve-racking, the REAL start of independence and the start of finding out whether we could cut the mustard living full time in a motor-home!  All we had was a European road atlas.  No mobile phone, no wi-fi lap-top, no GPS satillite system… If we wanted to call someone – we found a phone-box, if we wanted to email anyone – we found an internet cafe and if we wanted to find out where we were going – well, we looked at a map!

We set out for Belgium aiming for somewhere near Antwerp but we soon found out that Belgium has a fairly unique system of sign-posting and we approached and went around Antwerp no less than 3 times before giving it up as a frustratingly bad job and convinced that Antwerp was a figment of our imagination!  We changed our route to Ghent and our first ever continental Europe campsite pitch!

Before we left the UK our research led us to some things called ‘Camping Cheques’ which were (or probably still are) prepaid vouchers to pay for, or get a discount on, your camping fees at various sites around Europe.You get your cheques and a booklet with all the participating sites. …

The site in Ghent was on the list, so we found them (somehow!) and as luck would have it, there was a spot available for us next to a huge motorhome shipped over from the States with a personalised number plate ‘Spunky’ causing us some amusement for the duration of our short stay there – my American friends, this is NOT a polite word in the UK.  Nuff said?!

Not bad for a first pitch!

Once we’d spent a lot of precious time trying to level up the ‘van with bright yellow plastic ramps – our fridge didn’t work if the ‘van wasn’t spirit-level flat – we headed into the town after being assured that it was just a short walk into the centre – Oh how we laughed!  Actually, that should read Oh how THEY laughed!  We made it there and back, but “short” wasn’t in our vocabulary to describe our hike in and out!

Ghent is gorgeous, beautiful old gothic buildings an extremely picturesque river running through it, in fact we stayed an extra night so that we could explore for the day.  We took a little boat trip up and down the river and saw some amazing buildings – one of them had been faced in such a way as it looked like the reflection in the river complete with the wake of a recently passed boat – biazzare!  We passed many pubs and restaurants lining the river with young folk armed with tom-tom drums, guitars and the occasional violin playing and singing with their feet dangling in the water.

Surreal house on the river in Ghent.

For a first stop all on our own, it was definitely a great start!

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The start of the adventures in Girly

Leading to 1st May 2001…..

So…. There we were, homeless, with a camper we barely knew about and scarcely an idea about what we were going to do – what could possibly go wrong with this scenario?

We started the process of leaving the country…. I gladly handed in my notice at the  Estate Agents I was unwillingly working for.  Mark started wrapping up his self-employed Painting and Decorating business and was working all hours almost up to the day we left Cornwall because of his customers absolutely NEEDING this or that done before he left, and Oh, what were they going to do when he left…?!

We couldn’t leave Cornwall without a big going away party!  We took over our local pub and held a ‘Silly Hat’ party.  Unfortunately, as far as I know, not a picture survives the evening!  There were galleons in full sail, Biggles style pilots hat complete with rotating antennae earmuffs, ducks and giant cameras – that much I remember, not much else though!

We travelled – in our new home/camper up the country visiting family and friends as we drove on by.  Parties everywhere we went, of course.

Last get together before leaving!

At last…..

We ended up near Mark’s parents in Felixstowe.  We were booked on the ferry from Harwich to the Hooke van Holland.  We visited the family, had more celebrations and then early on the morning of the 1st May 2001, we  drove our camper van onto the ferry.  We were almost sick with excitement – we were finally on our way, all the planning had paid off, we’d made it onto the ferry!!  We deserved a big pat on the back – or at least a drink – only coffee at that time in the morning folks!

Elegantly served coffee on the ferry!

Six fairly lumpy hours later we arrived in Holland and here was our first attempt to drive a right hand drive vehicle with no rear view on European roads – what larks!  “Drive on the right, drive on the right, drive on the right was our mantra for several miles – sorry, kilometres!  Of course, got lost as soon as we got out of the port and spent the best part of an hour negotiating/exploring (depending on your view) the local Hooke van Holland area!

We couldn’t get so close to our Dutch friends and not pay them a visit, so once we untangled ourselves from the port area we found our way to Edwin & Germa’s house in a pretty typically Dutch town called Nieuwegein and parked Girly opposite the house looking out on a little river.  Not a bad first ‘pitch’!

We slept in Girly while we visited our friends and discovered that when it rained at night, you didn’t sleep – a simple equation, but not one we’d thought about!  Imagine sleeping under a corrogated iron roof, then imagine that same roof being about 10 inches away from your head, then imagine torrential rain and thunderstorms…. See?  Camper + Rain = No sleep!

We spent a week with our friends and their kids, had a wonderful time and really, we needed this as a transition period between living with bricks and mortar and living in something not much bigger than a Wendy House on wheels!

Just to prove we were in Holland!

However, it was time to become independent … we had to break the ties with houses and become self-sufficient in our little Girly!  We said our goodbyes and profuse thank-yous for the great time we had with them and headed South ………………

(There are hardly any photos of this part of the trip – all will become clear in the next instalment.)

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After the Honeymoon…..

We got back from our honeymoon in June 2000 full of the ideas that started back on Monemvasia!  Almost immediately we hit upon the idea of teaching English as a foreign language in Europe, however money was a bit of an issue, so we had to choose only one of us to do the course, we couldn’t afford it for both of us!  I nominated Mark! So off he went to evening school a couple of times a week for a few months, while working full time – my hero!

Our first idea was to buy a boat big enough to live on and tour the coast of the Mediterranean, I guess this was inspired by the Sun Seeker we saw! We looked at some gorgeous motor-yachts, we were living in my hometown of Falmouth, a major sailing port of so there wasn’t a lack of choice.  Then reality set in – we’d have to take courses to become safe on the water!  What would we do if we broke down or worse, sprung a leak? What would happen if a storm blew up and we weren’t near a port….  Hmmm, somehow it didn’t sound such fun anymore!

No, we never thought about a sailing boat, but it would've been lovely!

Plan B – Travel around on land!  Then if the weather gets dodgy, we can pull over and get shelter somewhere!  Hmmm…. What mode of transport could we use to get ourselves around Europe?  A caravan – nope – a pain to pull (or ‘tug’ to use the correct terminology!) and, to be honest, not the kind of thing we could see ourselves being cool travellers in!  We briefly thought about just driving around and taking cheap accommodation as we went – but only briefly!

A 30 second slot on the 6 o’clock news provided us with the solution – we saw a field full of camper vans having a get together somewhere in Cornwall – The light bulb came on above our heads and we looked at each other with the same thought!

We decided on a cautious approach, we’d save up and buy a carefully researched camper van, we discussed  a 2 – 3 year plan, after 2 years we’d buy a camper-van and spend the next year getting used to it and going off on our holidays in it, spend weekends in it…

Soooo….. we bought a camper van in the September of the same year, managed about 2 weeks total checking it out ( including a whole week in Devon) put our flat on the market and sold that by the end of the year!

Carefully researched?  Well, it was in the same area as us so it was easy to see.  Umm…. that was about it on the research front.  The camper was fairly big, a criteria we’d agreed on if we were going to actually live in it.  It was less than 10 years old and had extremely low mileage (we didn’t know at the time that this was perfectly normal for a recreational vehicle – usually only used for a couple of weeks a year!) It looked very plush, carpeted all through the main area, a fair sized shower room with a toilet, the whole side of one side was the kitchen area – perfect for me.

Loved the way the sellers proudly pointed out the space for a microwave.  We weren’t planning on being in many places where we’d need to ‘hook-up’ to electricity. When I said this, they looked at me like I had 2 heads – How will you cook? They ask me – Using the hob, grill and when I fit it, a gas oven, I replied. Oh, they said.

The other thing about the camper was that it was supposed to be a 4 berth, but it was only a 3 when we bought it – There had been a double bed above the cab area but they’d taken it out and made it into a single for their grand-daughter.  I looked around the camper – So, where do you sleep then?  We convert the dining area into a sleeping area – and they showed us some fairly complicated camper origami – dropping the table – making a jigsaw puzzle of the cushions – all had to go in the right place…. Hmmm, I thought to myself – that’s not gonna happen often!  That double bed above the cab is coming back to life!  Then we can keep it made up all the time, you know, like a normal bed! Sometimes people seem to get caught up in thinking that campers are tents on wheels, whereas we had different ideas entirely!  This was a miniature house on wheels WITH the added bonus of an engine!  It was like having a grown up wendy house!  I mean, I don’t know too many regular tents with a shower room and toilet, do you?…… Yes, yes, I know there are some palatial tents with separate bedrooms, kitchen, chandeliers etc – but normal ones don’t!

We ripped out a drawer in the kitchen area and then fitted a little gas oven – I had as much equipment as an ordinary kitchen – even a little fridge/freezer (loved this invention – called a 3-way fridge – ran off either gas, electric or 12v battery – fabulous!)

Then we had a think about the bed above the cab and decided to have 2 single mattresses made and Mark made a pull out base – all we had to do in the morning was slide one mattress on top of the other and close some cute little curtains – job done!  This had the distinct added advantage of getting the bed out of the way of your head when you moved from the living area through the front seats into the cab!  If we forgot, we did get bruised foreheads! (Or lumps on top of our heads coming FROM the cab!)

We joined some camper club or another, it wasn’t very useful, so I don’t remember the name – but it was one of the big ones!  With our membership card in hand we organised a week’s trial run in Devon.  The first place we tried had nice grass pitches and we parked facing the lovely views – our back-end to the access road around the camp-site – our thinking was that we’d have a great view from our bed (we had little windows we could peer out of from the bed above the cab.) plus we’d be sleeping a little away from any ‘traffic’!

That first day, we discovered a couple of things, one:  If the camper wasn’t completely level, the fridge didn’t work!  Two: We shouldn’t park inwards on a grass pitch when it rains……

We tried to leave the following morning and dug ourselves well and truly into the camp-sites perfectly manicured lawn – right up to the mud-guards!  At this point, we had an audience plus the owner of the site came over to see what the fuss was about!  He took it quite well at first, he said that he’d pull us out with his little tractor – it was only when he came back and discovered that our towing hook was at the front, not the back that his sense of humour started to fail him!  Thing was that right in front of us was  a little temporary fence around a large patch of newly seeded lawn, it was just starting to come through with its new growth – well we were parked right up against this little fence and the only way to get us out was to take down the fence and for the tractor to drive over the new seedlings, hook up to our tow-bar and drag us out over the new grass patch…. however, there was a further tiny problem… his little tractor was a bit too little to pull us out of the mire easily and its wheels churned and slipped in this new patch until we finally lurched out of our own mud-hole, we waved an embarrassed thanks and just left the camp-site trying not to look back on the wreckage we’d created!

So, lesson one learned – Do not park a 3 ton van on grass.

Lesson 2 – buy ramps to make sure your camper is perfectly level when you stop for any length of time – if you want your milk to stay fresh!

One night we stayed on a farm – they offered their field – we said no – (see lesson one!) so we parked on some hard-standing near the farmhouse.  We had a lovely night there and the following morning we knocked on the farmhouse door and were presented with half a dozen fresh eggs, collected that morning.

We had to walk past the hen-house to get to the facilities, this proved to be entertainment of the highest order!  Mark came back from the facilities and dragged me out of the camper laughing all the way… We approached the henhouse and we could hear the gentle occasional clucking of the hens – then we got to the door and then, as one, they all turned to look at us and this amazing group BOOOOOOUUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKKKKK! came from them all….  We dipped out of sight..  Instantly they forgot about us and went back to their gentle clucking…. We poked our heads around again –                                                            Immediately -   BOOOOOOUUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKKKKK!  … Heads out the way…. Cluck… cluck….cluck…Heads around the door…. BOOOOOOUUUUUUCCCCCCCCKKKKKKK! Heads out the way……….cluck…cluck…cluck…Well, you get the picture!

Of course we did this several times!  I’m surprised the farmer didn’t come out to find out what all the noise was about!

Stopping for lunch with views across the North Devon Coast

Another thing that I’d never seen before, and perhaps someone can tell me why this is….  We were driving down a lovely country road when suddenly we had 5 or 6 pheasants running in the road – going the same way as us – in the middle of the road!  Now, surely the sensible thing to do IF you’re going to be in the road in the first place is to run either across the road or run along the side of the road – but, I would have thought, running in front of a something 1000 times bigger than yourself was foolhardy to say the least!  But don’t worry, we didn’t have roast pheasant for dinner that night!

All in all, despite the mishaps, we thought that the week went very well!  So, full of confidence, we had the odd weekend here and there in her and that was about it for the ‘checking her out’ phase!

In the meantime, our apartment had sold and we were living temporarily at my Mum’s house.  We’d sold most of our furniture and possessions (no room in the camper for such things!)  Mark’s course for the teaching ended in April 2001 so we made plans to leave the country soon after that!

We talked and talked about what we were going to do once we got to mainland Europe and finally decided that we’d start our adventure in Italy – driving through France (mostly) along the way.  We had friends who were living near Lake Trasimeno in Umbria at the time and there was going to be a big party at the beginning of July where several family members and friends would be descending on them – so we decided to join in the fun too.

Here was our plan – Leave the UK at the beginning of May, spend 3-4 weeks travelling down to Umbria, look for teaching work near Lake Trasimeno, see everyone at the party in July, spend around 6 months in Italy teaching, and then move on to another country, maybe Greece, spend another 6 months teaching there………. and so on through the countries we wanted to visit and explore in-between the teaching.   Now didn’t that sound like a fine plan!

Safe grass - or at least pointing in the right direction!

You’ll have to wait to see if what we talked about and planned actually came to pass……………… !! Alla prossima (until the next time!)

Categories: Life Adventures | 2 Comments

Take a look at our beautiful baby…Fifi the Fiat Barchetta! (Guardate la nostra bimba!)

In Italiano … (English version under this!)

Stiamo piangendo perchè dobbiamo far posto ad un minivan, quindi diciamo arrivederci alla nostra bella rosso brillante Fiat Barchetta!

E’ in vendita, la lasciamo andare, le diciamo addio, un dolce addio… Quanto ci piacerebbe tenerla tutta per noi, ma non possiamo avere tutto!

Così, dovremo lasciare che qualcun altro si diverta al posto guida!

Ha 5 marce, 1.8 motore benzina, solo 74.000 Km, revisionata fino al maggio 2011, cerchi in lega, un nuovo lettore CD che riproduce abbastanza forte da cantare mentre la capotta è abbassata! La cappotta è nuova (Per gli americani che guardano – non è questo il cofano di fronte, è la parte che va sopra la testa per riparare dal sole o per mantenere il corpo asciutto!)

Venite a vederla a Cannara, Umbria – venire a fare un giro, la amerete!

Tutto questo divertimento per soli € 3.800 – un vero affare! Naturalmente, siamo un po’ flessibili sul prezzo!

Mettetevi in contatto con noi su Facebook (Giselle Stafford / Mark Stafford), o e-mail ci  gustowinetours@gmail.com o chiamateci al numero (0039) 3383 298691

Se avete altre domande su Fifi, fatecele, saremmo lieti di rispondervi!

Ci deve essere qualcuno là fuori la amerà come abbiamo fatto noi!

And in English…..

We are crying because we have to make way for a minivan, so we are saying arrivederci to our lovely bright red Fiat Barchetta!

She’s up for sale, we’re letting her go, we’re saying goodbye, it’s a fond farewell…. As much as we’d love to keep her all to ourselves, we can’t have it all!

So…. we’ll have to let someone else have fun in her instead!

She’s got a 5 speed 1.8 petrol engine, only 74,000 km, M.O.T’ed until May 2011, alloy wheels, a new CD player that plays loud enough to be singing along with the top down! The hood is new (Any Americans looking – this isn’t the bonnet at the front, this is the part that goes over your head to keep the sun off or keep you dry!)

Come and see her in Cannara, Umbria – come for a drive, you’ll love her!

All this fun for only €3,800 – a real bargain!!  Of course, we’re a little bit flexible on that price!

Get in touch with us on Facebook (Giselle Stafford/ Mark Stafford), or email us on gustowinetours@gmail.com or call us on (0039) 3383 298691

If you have any other questions about Fifi, please ask, we’d be delighted to answer you!

There has to be someone out there who will love her like we do!

Categories: Life Adventures | 1 Comment

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