France 2 The Sequel – “You Had Me at Chateau”

We’d finally left the Med and were heading inland to Aix-en-Provence hoping we’d not left it too late for the weather. It was getting harder to find campsites open as we were well and truly out of season now, so since there were no useful looking aires in Aix we picked an open campsite from ACSI which had a bus into town. We picked the site for a base for a daytrip but it turned out to have a lovely sleepy French campsite vibe. It also happened to be right next to really interesting countryside with loads going on, all in the shadow of Cezanne’s favourite subject, Mont Sainte-Victoire.

We had our daytrip to Aix, which was nice, as the last time Jayne and I visited was about ten years ago. In our eagerness we’d not planned anything specific and town visits without an activity have started to feel a bit empty to us these days. I think there were galleries we should have taken to kids to but we wandered and it was all a little unfulfilling. It didn’t help that I’d been feeling pretty rough for a few days and was suffering. When you’re travelling together and relying on each other all the time, it’s really obvious when someone’s “not right” and it was my turn for definite!

Daddy’s new theory is tested. Fountains are either things been sick (mostly) or things blowing…this one…Aidan for scale.

One good thing was that we bought the kids a chess set. They had been keen on getting chess for some reason and chose it from the shelf of assorted games! It felt too good to be true so we set ourselves up for various bouts of clarifying “No….that can only move diagonally” and “No…pawns can only do that on their first go” etc. etc….

“No Anna that’s not checkmate…oh…wait…hang on?!?!?”

We left the campsite relaxed and wondering if we should’ve been there longer, but we were again scared of the weather going downhill (SPOILER : it never did really!). We decided to go for a walk up one of the nearby hills and then head to the Luberon (not a robot film bad guy, just a nice bit of Provence…who knew!) as recommended by a nice Danish lady on Pampelonne beach.

Look at those rugged wanderers…it’s like a Cezanne painting (not his best!)
Photo taken from my resting/lounging place as the kids played on all these exposed roots and branches.

The Luberon is a big national park of villages and countryside, north of Aix and east of Avignon. Famous for being the setting of “A Year in Provence” and “A Good Year”. Jayne also spotted that it had another bikepath from an old railway…this is our kinda place! We hadn’t really got a plan as such and just headed for a free stop in a village called Lacoste (nothing to do with 80s polos sadly!) which seemed to be the right driving distance. It turned out to be this crazy old village topped by a chateau that had been the Marquis de Sade’s and was now Pierre Cardin’s (It’s used for concerts and the like now…nowhere near as debauched!). We had a bit of a night time walk up through the really really quiet village up to the top and the only people we saw were a few American students that were there for the art college…that was it…can you imagine travelling from the US to some tiny hillside village in Provence for college…bizzare!

HUG! My favourite sculpture ever…right at the top of Lacoste…in a carpark next to the chateau.

The next day we moved to another free carpark stop in Bonnieux there were a few things that happened in Bonnieux, first of all we had a lovely day. Lacoste had nothing other than beautiful old buildings and a few American teenagers. Bonnieux was a very French village with the usual stuff, and luckily we arrived on market day so saw the best of it. We ambled around bought a few bits and pieces..including some very expensive (but incredibly nice) nougat…and for the main event…what could be more French than a visit to a bread museum (yes…i’m not sure what we were thinking either!). Well, what could make it more French would be the lady opening it (after the long lunch break) telling me they would be opening ten minutes late, and then walking out and standing next to me to smoke for ten minutes before opening…awesome. A great day had, and a brilliant free place to park, just near the centre in a carpark right next to the church. Some days being in a motorhome just can’t compare, as you can be right in the middle of it all for nothing or at least next to nothing and then drive away when you feel like it.

Watch out for the paps!

For all that positivity there were a few negatives bubbling away, the first was that we had admitted to ourselves that our fridge wasn’t working on gas at all anymore. This was a problem as at these free stops we had no electricity, not good, especially as I have injections (long boring story) that need to be kept cold, really not good. Our plan was to throw money at it rather than derail ourselves for a repair. So we’d buy a 12v coolbox for the essentials and my jabs. Hopefully with the double leisure batteries and solar panel we’d be tickety boo. Sorted…kinda.

The other negative was that although physically I was feeling better I’d been feeling “clinically fed up” about the rest of the trip. I think it was a combination of realising that we were onto the last bit of the trip, that we didn’t really have a plan, that we had to start thinking about ferries home and places to live and all the rest of it, autumn, cold, empty towns and villages with closed shops. Obviously this is deeply deeply self involved stuff as I’m on a massive holiday but it was really stopping us planning past Avignon as it was all feeling a bit much. Luckily Jayne is a good Matt tamer/shrink and all that it really took was for us to make a more long term plan for our remaining time. Once we’d done that things felt a bit better, we also started to work on the stuff we needed to sort for our return to the UK. It seems silly but for months we’d been able to ignore all but the next few days and it had been great, but we’d got to the point we needed to face reality again.

The Plan : Head down into Spain and try and get as far a Valencia, then up to San Sebastian and the Atlantic coast of France to the ferry at St Malo. Done. Onward. etc.

The next day we woke up in our carpark, bought bread (you have to…it’s France), and went off in search of the bike path Jayne had found. It was lovely, running along the middle of the Luberon’s flat bottom (stop smirking at the back) between vines and arable farms and all mostly level thanks to it being an old railway. Again Aidan managed an amazing 23km and even more amazingly so did his mum!!!

Another awesome converted railway line. Check the autumn vines changing colour.
It’s a hard life. I can’t even pretend I had any map reading to do when it’s a railway line!
Gurns and vines.

Our next stop (after shopping for a coolbox near Avignon) was Chateauneuf-de-Pape. Famous wine region, pretty village, and most importantly: a free place to park for the night. Right at the top of the village next to the remains of Chateau-de-Pape. The hotels must have been top dollar but here we were parked up watching the sun go down over the Rhone Valley for nowt (I promise I’ll stop sounding like a skin flint soon!). The next day we wandered about the village and picked up some wine (you have to…it’s France) and listened to the choir in the big church. Then up to the van for a cuppa before heading off.

Bursty-de-Pape. If you hadn’t figured by now, Bursty is the name of our van.
This view…..for free…. :O)
“Get off our land”

The next place we wanted to see was Pont du Gard, a big Roman Aqueduct west of Avignon. We’d decided to go for a campsite rather than continue the run of free stops (See, not always a skin flint!). We were hoping we could coax some life into the fridge with power and the kids could have some more space to play in. I found somewhere open and we headed off. The campsite turned out to be amazing. Right next to the river and 800m from THE PONT. It was in the trees and all the pitches were random shapes and sizes to fit around the woods. We moved three times before we settled on one we liked but once we got in (getting our van in was FUN!) we got the hammock out, the slackline out and fully OWNED that pitch!!!

An amazing place…far better than we’d thought it would be.
Aren’t they lovely…sometimes!!

We really settled into our little forest home and ended up staying four nights. We also found our first proper Geocache. After the slightly abortive attempt in Italy I’d almost forgotten about it but the fun we all had hunting about for this little container was a bit addictive. Over the next few days Aidan and I hunted down a few in the area and they led us to some amazing Roman aqueduct remains that we’d never have found otherwise. We started to get a bit hooked. Sadly Anna didn’t have as much fun, she had a bit of a sickness bug and her recovery was one of the reasons we stayed for the four nights, we wanted to give her plenty of time to get back to her usual shouty self ;O)

Look at that poise….majestic!
I hadn’t the heart to tell him that’s not how you do it!

Eventually we tore ourselves away from the woods and headed south with a quick stop in Narbonne and then to try and see the Narbonnaise Natural Park we went for a stop in Guisson. It was on a Marina, and windy! Everything was a bit dead as again we were well past the end of the season so we got up the next morning and headed south again for Spain….we were well and truly ready to chase the sun now!!!

They wore us down…and then kept winning more goes from the guy that ran it!
Daddy needs a hug some mornings…that’s just how it is!

France 2 The Sequel – “This Time it’s Mediterranean”

How can I compete with a blog post that ends in a birthday? Well I guess I have the south of France to play with so at least maybe the photos will be good ;O)

We left Italy with me quite excited. We had fallen for Italy after a bit of a rocky start, but I was really looking forward to some time in Provence and the French riviera, with all the familiarity that being in France gives you.

We left our lovely marina stop and got back on the glorious E80 through more tunnels and bridges towards the border. One final biglietto stop and then we were in the world of peage (roads are a big part of our life right now…this stuff matters!). Almost immediately we felt a difference. The roads were bigger and busier, it’s not that the Italian side had been empty but France felt like the fast lane. All the development and coastal sprawl of Monaco, Cannes, and Nice makes this border feel far more definite than most others we’d crossed. So we crossed feeling excited and bullish and with an, in retrospect, crazy idea of coffee on the front in Monaco. I dived off the motorway and with little planning tried heading downhill. The main tunnel through town was closed. Traffic was bad. We ended up on a little road winding down with parked cars either side. Then very…very….nearly got stuck! We made it through with a couple of centimetres either side…and scuttled off back to the motorway with our tails between our legs and me a little stressed out. Monaco in a 7 metre motorhome…JUST SAY NO…it sounds so obvious now you say it!

We ploughed on, looking for a place to stop, feeling a bit frustrated that there didn’t seem to be anything. Through Nice and along the built up shoreline. In the end we stopped at a massive Casino supermarket in Cagnes-sur-Mer and tried to work out what to do next. Everything seemed a bit better after baguettes and humous (the first humous for weeks…it makes me faint thinking about the deprivation!) and we made a plan to drive a chunk further and miss out on the fanciness of Cannes etc and jump straight to the less built up bit of the coast near Saint-Maxime.

We got to the campsite after more driving in a day than I think we’d done before. Not what we’d planned but when we pulled up the campsite made us forget it all. It wasn’t shiney or fancy but it was relaxed, we had a lovely pitch under the trees, and the beach was just at the end of the drive. Checkin was just a guy who put his beer down long enough to tell us to find a pitch and tell him later. We hadn’t really thought about how long to stay but it was all so relaxing we gave ourselves three nights there to chill out. We hung out on the beach, took the little bus into Saint Maxime on market day (love a french market even if the cheese stall was a bit intimidating!), and caught up on the laundry! Bliss…except the laundry bit…oh and the continuing battle against mosquitoes!!

Our Pitch…framed for the tree…LOVE THE TREE!!!
The “helpers” being typically productive.
“I’m just….well….i’m just going to have one of everything aren’t I daddy?”

Our next move was a bit of a memory lane trip. We visited a place called Gigaro beach last June and loved it so we headed back for the day. Its on the other side of the headland with St Tropez on one side, Gigaro on the other and Pampelonne beach on the end. It couldn’t be more different than St Tropez though, sleepy and chilled. After a day relaxing on the beach and a bit of a trip down memory lane we headed to a big motorhome aire, just behind Pampelonne beach.

Gigaro beach…bliss…and even made complete with a sighting of the lesser spotted Jaynieswimmer in the right of frame…only slightly less elusive than Nessie!!

I didn’t get a good impression of the beach when we visited last year. Too big, too hot, blah blah. This time however, we were at the opposite end, the season was properly wound down, and the weather was juuuuuuuuuust right! As has been a popular refrain…”We intended to stay one night and stayed…..more”. We ended up staying in Pampelonne for three nights and filled the time with floating about in the flat still water with the kids improving their swimming and visiting the lighthouse that we could see beaming out at night. Oh…and also stressing a bit about the van fridge.

From near the lighthouse…beaaaaautiful…we were parked just at the bottom of the main curve.
The kids spent hours digging at and shoring up the banks of weed that build up.
We even managed a sneaky wine while the kids ran around on the beach…lovely!

Motorhome fridges are a miracle of modern science…or maybe an overcomplicated pain in the arse depending on how you look at it. They work on mains, 12v, or gas, and it’s the gas that lets us be off hookup and still have a nice cool fridge. We’d been getting a bit of a smell from the burning gas for a while but it was at Pampelonne that we had to admit that it just wasn’t cooling the fridge as well as it had been. Eeeep. More on that in the following post.

We’d been trying to work out what to do next. The plan had always been to head inland towards Aix-en-Provence before working across to Avignon and then south towards Spain but we were struggling to tear ourselves away from the coast. We ended up leaving Pampelonne and giving ourselves one last beach stop at a place (amusingly) called La Tour Fondue (cheese tower….tower of melted cheese???). We only stayed one night but there were beautiful beaches and Jayne informed me there was a naturist island nearby…and ferries…not sure why she told me…errrr…

“Oh no…not ANOTHER gorgeous beach….#sigh”
Another swimming lesson…another lovely beach :O)

Anyway…After almost a month on the Riviera, Italian and French, it was hard to drag ourselves away, it’s all just too damn nice, but we figured if we we wanted to see more of Provence and have any time left for Spain we needed to buck up and get going.

With that lecture we’d given ourselves ringing through our heads we set off snailing our way inland towards Aix…

Bye bye Med…see you in a few weeks!

Family Fortnight

It was so nice to see my folks. Meeting them had been something we’d known we were going to do from the outset so it was one of those long term things we’d all been looking forward to, like the weeks we spent in the Black Forest with the Robbos and Hanlos. It’s nice to have some longer term things coming up as our planning is so short term, only up to the next few days (or maybe that afternoon!) and the bigger things give something longer term to look forward to.

Anyway…we met the Gramps at Mario Village (not Nintendo themed sadly!), chosen more because we could all get there in a day’s travel from where we were. First impressions were of a little holiday park that was taking itself a little too seriously for the end of season…fabric wristbands, three pages of paperwork on check in, but it turned out to be lovely. Right near a lovely lake, half empty, and best of all, a beautiful heated swimming pool! The pool was a real bonus as the kids had missed out for a while and it was perfect for them. The kids were so excited to have their grandparents with them, and lets not forget Fizzy (the wire haired fox terrier) who is now a good size for Aidan to hold his lead….alllll the time.

We had a good few days there before heading towards Lake Garda, a few highlight were:
– First night pizza in the campsite restaurant, basic but perfect, cheap pizzas, cheap wine…lovely!
– The pool…with worm slide…yes…worm slide!
– The kids making fruit pizza with Grandma, appropriate but unorthodox, fruit and yogurt on a water melon base.
– Cycling, Dad and I got out for a lovely ride, only marred a little by me having a slight altercation with a wing mirror (gained some good arm scars though!)

Heated to alllllmost perfection!
Me and the old man lycra’d up!

The plan was to spend a few days moving south and around Garda before meeting my cousin Peter for the weekend. Our first step was a lovely drive through the mountains to the north end of Garda, which is VERY dramatic, all kinds of geology going on all over the place. We drove a fun rode down to and along the easten edge of the lake (the road on the West side looked even more fun but sat nav clocked it as about two hours longer).

This picture doesn’t do it justice but driving through it was awesome.
This blog needs more driving pictures.

The stop we’d chosen was at Macalsine was really tight and right in the olive trees. We had a walk down to the water and saw about fifteen members of the Macalsine paragliders club come into land on a tiny patch of land reclaimed from the lake. It was, however, a little disappointing when they all got down cleanly…although I guess not for them! That evening Dad and I snuck out to a place right next to the campsite called Speckstube which was a german style beer garden place, nice to get a final weisse beer before getting too far away from the border.

“He’s going to go in the water….yes he is…he’s in…oh…he landed..safely…#sigh”
Aidan showing off his Gym skills

The stop wasn’t really worth another night so we moved on the next morning, although it was a bit of a shame we didn’t get to explore Macalsine as it looked lovely. We decided to head to the south end of Garda but with a stop at an Olive Oil producer on the way. The drive was a bit crazy as I still wasn’t used to the Italian roads. We got there not sure what to expect but we had a look round the olive trees and after the really spendy tourists had left the owner talked us through the olive oil producing process and showed us the machines. We were a month before havest so they were gearing up but he talked us through a tasting of the oils they produced which were awesome. There is somthing odd about drinking oil out of little plastic shot glasses but it was reaally tasty. We grabbed a few bottles for the journey (which we’re already thinking was too few) and headed for the planned campsite.


Again initial impressions of the place we stayed weren’t great, muddy pitches, a big site, pool closed (we think), but again we ended up having a lovely time. The site was big and not the sort of place we are usually drawn to, but we had two pitches next to each other, and we could be on the edge of the lake in a couple of minutes. Looking back from where we are now (yes, yes, we’re massively behind!!) we now know that Italian campsites are a bit different from the campsites we’d seen up to this point. You generally get less space for your money and so we kept having the feeling we were properly cheek and jowl with people. Not always bad but on a bigger site can feel overbearing. Enough waffling…we had a very chilled few days with a trip to the beautiful but packed Sirmione, and every evening with the kids watching the sun going down over Lake Garda which isn’t something many campsites can give you!

Once we sorted out the pitches this was our Garda camp…with Fizzy making an appearance in the foreground.
Sirmione seems to dish up the biggest ice creams you could imagine.
The Gramps!! :O)

Look at those cheesy grins.

We left Garda on the Friday to move onto the next bit of family in the FAAAAMMMILY FORRRRNIGHT (please read in spooky voice)….meeting my cousin Peter!

Peter has lived in Italy for more than a decade now and we’ve never been over to visit him which makes us LAME. He has a house near Verona from when he worked there and it’s about five mins from the town of Soave and bang on the border between the Soave and Valpolicella wine regions (I know…sickening isn’t it ;O)). We left the Garda campsite on Friday morning, to make our way to Soave. A short stint on the motorway and we were parked up next to a big town fortified wall. We had a little walk through the town and it was beautiful. Picture what you would expect from this sort of place, on a hill (but not too hilly), few people about (but not too busy), hot (but not scorching) it was lovely. We had a wander up the hill to see the castle and then back down for a coffee. All very pleasant and chilled.

Since this was Friday Peter and his partner Anna wouldn’t be arriving from Florence until later on so when we left Soave we got ourselves camped on the drive (feeling a bit bad that our van blocked out most of the neighbours light as well as Peter’s!). We had dinner and got ourselves sorted to de-camp for…wait for it…a real bed for only the second time in three months. Mum and Dad stayed in their van so we could have the spare room which was really nice as the kids loved being in the house.

We felt a bit bad that the van didn’t really fit in front of the house….at all!

We had a few drinks when they arrived but all crashed pretty early after a long day. The next morning Dad, Peter, and I went out for a bike ride around some of the area. It was harvest time so while we were riding all the farmers were busy bringing in the grapes and we saw a few of the wine co-ops where they were lined up with their tractors waiting for their turn to have their trailer full crushed. That evening Peter took us to the local Pizzeria, lively and some of the best Pizza I’ve had, and frankly, I’ve had a lot!!! Although with a lot of vino, and limoncellos to finish, the end of the night is a little fuzzy!

Lovely Saturday morning run out.
Bringing the harvest for pressing.

Sunday we had a nice lazy start, a quick trip to the local wine co-op, then a walk nearby up and through the vines to enjoy the view. This was followed by an awesome lunch at the local agriturismo which is a family run restaurant where they grow about 80-90% of what they serve on their land. Including making a lot of the wine as well. The food was fantastic, even allowing for the fact that we’re awkward veggies so couldn’t take full advantage of the pigs “out back” (Peter made up for us though!). It was a really cool experience to go to a local place like this as we would never had known about it or whether we’d have been able to eat there if Peter and Anna hadn’t taken us and held our hands!

Aidan walking with his grandma, no doubt telling her how the world (or some drains) work.
Aidan eating FANCY…china plates…makes a change from tin and enamel

Then the exodus began, on Sunday evening Peter and Anna had to head back to Florence for work on Monday (Work…I remember that I think?!) followed the next morning by my Mum and Dad who were off to wend their way back north for their ferry. It was all a bit sad for a while, a bit like the end of the black forest time. The kids had loved having their Gramps around and were very sad when they left. They loved the times reading with Grandma, washing up with Grandad, and being pulled along by Fizzy!

Thanks for a lovely weekend guys…this is a rare shot where Anna wasn’t under a pile of our children! (I think she might be little Anna’s new FAVOURITE!)

We were kindly allowed to borrow the house so we stayed on soaking up the area until Thursday before we decided to move on…back to snailing along just the four of us again!

Over the Hill(s)

We had a big day planned, which didn’t even include the crazyness of later on which i’ll get to. The plan had been formed from some disappointment. Ever since the Wankbahn (smirk) Aidan being a little disappointed that the top of Mount Wank (smirk) hadn’t been covered in snow, we figured that on our way through the Alps we’d be able to find Anna and him some snow and it became a bit of a challenge. I had looked at the ski resorts I knew had glaciers but they were all well out of our way and would’ve been a big detour. Luckily, the region of Salzburg does have a glacier with all the lifts to get to it…woop. The Kitzsteinhorn was right near Zell am See and not far off our route to get over to Italy. This was a budget buster but since it was something we couldn’t do anywhere else and something the kids had never done before we figured it was worth it….the glacier WAS ON!

An early goodbye to the campsite ponies and off up the valley past Kaprun to the foot of the Panaoramabahn (after previous cable cars the name was a bit of a let down but you can’t have everything). We bought our tickets and headed off up. This was fantastic for the kids as it was a proper ski resort setup with wireless passes and big lifts which they thought was brilliant. There was a big gondola and then a chair lift to get to the middle of the resort. Our first family chair lift…I think I was the most excited…and that’s saying something.

First chair lift together…woop!

After the lift there was a quick (slightly over enthusiastic) purchase of sledges (the type that are a basically a plastic plate with a handle…I’m not made of money) we had pommes (chips for those without any German snack vocab…you losers) in the (trying to be) fancy (with the awning roof being blown off) restaurant. Then photos where we genuinely thought we might get blown away (little bit windy) before we headed up the cable car to the top. The cable car was a big one, heading right to the top, it was a proper “two cars alternatively being pulled up and down” one. I was looking forward to it as i’d not been on big one since Zermatt a few years ago.

The bigun!

This was where it got fun/exciting/HORRIBLE depending on whether you were Jayne or not. It was a little bit windy, only a little, to the point that they closed the cable car for 10-15 mins, but then realised it was only A LITTLE BIT WINDY and that they were obviously just being lame and re-opened. So we headed up. It was a little wobbly…kinda swingy…but mostly really bangy when it hit home at the top as it was swinging into the station. Maybe they should’ve given it 5 more mins for the wind to drop?

The kids loving the lift…oblivious to the swinging and swaying.

The station at the top was both quite cool and a bit disappointing at the same time. They’d obviously spent a lot of money on it, and the balconies to look out were amazing. There was a tunnel through the peak to see out the other side but no actual way to make it out onto the snow which made it feel a little bit fake, like Blofeld’s lair without the fun chases down the hill with machine guns. This sadly meant not kids sledging on a glacier, but I guess them blowing away wouldn’t have been great.

At the top…it really was a bit blowy up there!

Me doing my wild man of the mountain impression…thanks to Tibor for the headgear!
I’ve got a lot of these…the views we’re amazing…check out the cute little pistebasher doing it’s thing!

After having a look round and feeling again like we might blow away on the balconies we headed down (once Jayne had spent a few minutes in quiet contemplation of the ordeal to come). We then had a bit of time at the mid station finding enough snow for the kids to sledge and worked out that you don’t need that much…Aidan loved it and after a fair bit of that, followed by half an hour on the highest playground they’re likely to visit we headed back down to the van.

Jayne was out of shot pretending she was on a bus in Peckham….or just ANYWERE else!

The text here probably doesn’t do justice to the mind blowingness for the kids, the scale of this stuff for them is just awesome and it’s so good to be able to bring them and see it being absorbed :O)

We had a cuppa at the bottom and sorted ourselves out for the drive. We planned to get through the alps and into Italy over the course of the evening (told you it was a big day!). The forecast wasn’t that good, rain overnight and snow higher up, which was either a reason to stay, or a reason to go depending on how you looked at it….we went.

The drive was fun for a long time, we went up and up and up on some amazing roads. We went through the biggest tunnel so far at about 5km (and 1600m up!) then started our way down. It’s hard to describe the roads here and on our trip we’ve seen some pretty impressive roads but these were the best so far. Half in the mountain and then suspended, half hanging off the side of the mountain, hairpins that jut out over the valley. All just crazy bits of engineering. We made our way down, and it started to rain, nothing major but annoying. We stopped in a lay-by for dinner right by a very serious looking river, it looked like it could have your arm off as soon as wash your little lay-by away (luckily it had the self control to do neither).

After dinner we forged on aiming for a cheap stop somewhere on the way to Lake Garda but the rain got heavier and heavier…and heavier. Then we hit the Italian border and the road got smaller…and bumpier…and the rain got heavier and heavier….yada yada. Eventually I just couldn’t see and realised it was all just a little too unsafe. At almost exactly the point I realised that piloting four tonnes of high sided box filled with my family down a windy road with zero visibility was not fun…there was a campsite sign…and it had space…but it was a campsite…oh the joy…the relief…I nearly cried when they had space….(and then lost my temper at Jayne when trying to get the van on the pitch basically blind…but lets not focus on that).

That’s a campsite apparently….thank goodness it was!

When we got up the next morning…
a) I hadn’t knocked anything over parking up…I was within about two inches of a lamp post…but that is just…ahem…precision.
b) The campsite was lovely, it was on a river, in the Dolomites, and had a mini zoo and a slackline.
We hung around for the morning and explored a little bit then packed up and moved on.

Turned out OK!

After the earlier than planned stop the previous day, Garda wasn’t really on the cards but my Mum and Dad didn’t mind heading a bit further north so we agreed on a campsite and motored that way. It was a long journey notable for an awesome stop at a cheese/wool making place for lunch and an amazingly rubbish wrong turn by me on the toll road that cost us about 40 mins. But eventually we made it to….Camping Mario Village…and there they were…the people that the kids (and us obv!) had been waiting to see…Grandma and Grandad Seppo!

We all made it! :O)

Hop, Skip and a Jump

After we left Schnitzmuhle we had a few days to cross Bavaria and meet up with THE ROBBOS up near Stuttgart.

Hop : Regensburg
Our first stop was Regensburg. We’d read that this was a nice stop where the old town wasn’t too spoilt by tourism. Naturally we tried to spoil it, but in the end it turned out to be one of the nicest short stops we’ve had. It has a university which always makes places feel a bit more lively and it’s also on the Danube. The river takes over the centre with three forks through, one being the massive ship canal and lock with the others are the old routes with islands in between and lovely parks. We stayed in a FREE park and ride carpark which was bizarrely about 10 mins walk from the centre (I’m obviously used to bigger cities!). We had a lovely walk around the centre in the afternoon and then the following day a lovely bike ride up to the dams and spielplatz upstream from town. As usual the playground was lovely and we had fun trying to do the outdoor gym equipment (some of which I couldn’t even reach…I’ve almost never felt so short…sob). I also managed a quick risky swim in the very fast flowing Danube with the water “boiling” around me.

Reflections of the centre from the island.
Another lovely playground, Anna and I had a nice chat in a hammock.
Our lovely random swimming spot five mins from the centre of the city…what an awesome place.
NEWSFLASH : Scruffy man emerges from the Danube. Assumed British.
Canoists playing in the currents from Regensburg’s 12th century “Stone Bridge”.

One last thing i’ll remember from Regensburg was having a wander on my own in the evening, it was lovely and buzzy along the river and most of the walk there I was chatting to the guys from work on a video call. Nice to see friends from work and check in on Karl’s house warming…I wonder if any of you guys are reading any of this??? (That’s a cue for you to comment to prove you’re all still OK and will have me back??)

Just after getting off the phone with the “Palace Crew”.

Skip : Erding
When we left Regensburg we hemmed and hawed about how to cover the ground we needed to over the next few days but we settled on skirting Munich and following the Danube west. We’d seen something about Munich airport having a good (and free) visitors centre and we thought that might be a nice stop with the kids (and planespotter Jayne!!!) so I picked a cheap stop near there. It was only when we were nearly there I realised it was in Erding. Now, the beer drinkers amongst you will know Munich is important and that weiss beer is big round there. There’s one that is probably bigger in the UK than the others and it happens to be one of my favourites, Erdinger, and we’d just parked two minutes from the brewery. Sadly I couldn’t get on any of the factory tours :O(.

When in Erding….

The place we stayed was in the carpark of the MASSIVE Erding thermal spa pool complex (again something we hadn’t planned). We neeearly went to the pools but when we saw the price and worked out how much the kids would get out of it we quietly dropped the idea and stuck with the airport. That evening we had a massive windy thunderstorm and the van got rocked about loads, but it was quite cool with us all huddled on the kids bed watching out of the window.

Munich airport visitors centre was a really great stop for kids our’s age, lovely playground, big hill to stand on and watch the two runways, and a few old planes to climb in and look around. we spent the morning there and headed off to re-join the Danube.

Planespotter (not-so) anonymous.
Race, race, race…

Jump : Gunzberg
Nice little stop for eight euros or so, right on the Danube. We setup and had dinner then rode along the river for about 3 km all four of us on our bikes with little Anna doing loads! When we got back the kids made friends with some other girls on the campsite and ran about with torches until far too late :O)

Mother and Daughter take on the Danube (or at least the bike path!)

This was another random stop that had more than we’d expected, here we were right in the carpark of the beautiful looking local outdoor pool. We didn’t have time to go which was a shame but we’ve found so many incidental things at these little local stops it’s been really interesting.

The next morning we got up and had a long motorway drive up to Stuttgart and through to the Black Forest. Autobahn 8 was really cool, weaving through the hills, but was quite busy and hard work to drive. We arrived a the campsite at 1 pm ready to meet the Robbos…..but where were they???…


Berlin To Bavaria

We drove out of Berlin after five nights, still not sure we shouldn’t have stayed longer, but also itching to move on. Our plan was to head to Austria via the Czech Republic before meeting friends in the Black Forest, so again, south we headed.

The first stage of our “Post Berlin Period” was Saxony, we didn’t get long but what we saw we really liked. We’d managed a nice long run from Berlin and got right down to the top of Saxony to a good little campsite with a lovely swimming lake.

Turning up at a campsite and finding it has a beautiful swimming lake is a proper bonus!

We knew we needed to make progress so we decided to forge on the next day, only to have an odd day of trying to visit Bastei and failing to get close enough for the kids to walk. In the end we found a lovely walk down to a crazily remote little restaurant in a gorge that we found almost by accident.

This is what it’s about!

That evening we tried to find a cheap camp around a pretty town called Bad Schandau but failed, and then had our first “Sorry we’re full” experience. In the end we found a place that squeezed us onto their tent section and actually had decent wifi (campsite wifi is almost always crap) so we could sort out our plans.

Changing THE PLAN
We’d always intended on heading down to Austria straight after Germany and checking out the lakes before we met friends in the black forest, but, we we’re starting to come to terms with the distances we could cover and still enjoy ourselves. We worked out that the Austria plan was stressing us out because we were trying to squeeze two weeks of travelling into a week, which would have just been flogging ourselves and keeping the kids in their seats more than we wanted. We always said we’d rather see less but enjoy it on this trip and this was the first real time we had to change plans to enact that.

The NEW Plan
Work our way more directly to the black forest and head to Austria on the way to Italy rather than go out as far as Slovenia and Croatia. All of a sudden we felt happier, the distances were realistic! This meant we could drop into Prague and also check out Bavaria on the way through.

The next morning we headed off for a couple of hours drive to get to Prague. We felt like we were missing out on Saxony but it had been an unexpected stop that was beautiful and again we felt like we were leaving without really exploring. We chalked it up as yet another place that would stand a couple of weeks holiday at a later date. The trip to Prague was nice and easy, the border crossing into the Czech Republic was a little odd as the road suddenly got worse and there were lots of rough looking tourist shops selling mostly wooden windmills..errr…ok??? It really made us laugh and then a whole class full of children on a trip started randomly waving at us. We weren’t used to border crossings being anything more than signs, but then we got on the motorway and all was ok and boring again!!

Prague was lovely, after an initial false start where we got thrown off a campsite. We arrived at a place we’d picked from googly maps which turned out to be someones garden. After flawlessly manoeuvring the beast down a steep drive and into a spot only about a foot bigger than the van Anna cried too loud for the owner. “Just leave….she is crazy!”…or maybe she’s just three? For the best…didn’t want to stay there anyway ;O). We then found a place just north of the city which was much less uptight and had the amazing boast of having “up to date sanitary facilities” renovated in just 1992!! They had the feeling of a south american prison…but the rest was nice and relaxing.

We had a nice bus and tram ride into the city, a poke about town and….ICE CREAM. We also found an amazing buffet style veggie restaurant for lunch that was full of locals where we piled our plates high to offset the slightly bread heavy diet we’ve had of late.

Kids love trams!
Gratuitous tourist shot.
“…even the most demanding guests…”

Bavaria and Schnitzmühle
After our brief Prague stop we hightailed back to Germany to try and give ourselves a break in Bavaria to relax as we’d moved a lot since Berlin. The journey was an boring rainy motorway run but in a couple of hours we were back in Germany and holed up at one of quite a few free village stops where you can park for free overnight and have all the right drains and taps that you need for the van. We’d plumped for Pleystein which was a sleepy village close to the border with lots of cycling routes and the predictably pretty church. We had a wander around and then went for pizza in a place that I can only assume is setup for takeaway as when we went to sit down it felt like the tables had been laid in the 70s. The next morning we had a ride out on the bikes along an old railway line route with all four of us riding…go Anna!

A lovely bike route from a random free stop, this is what is lovely, finding things unplanned because we have time to explore.
Crates of nice beer in the supermarket…i’m a simple but happy man.

Pleystein had been a quick stop on our way to our main Bavaria event, Adventure Camp Schnitzmühle. In the middle of the Bavarian forest the often mispronounced (hilariously…by Jayne) Schnitzmühle was right down in a valley on a little island attached to a cool hotel. This place was awesome, the river, a swimming lake, firepits and fires allowed, and we managed to bag a pitch right by the river. We ended up staying five nights and we could easily of stayed more. There wasn’t a great deal immediately nearby but that wasn’t really a problem as the hotel had a lovely restaurant and there was a train stop right next to the campsite if you wanted to explore the rest of the area. We spent our time playing in and floating down the river, canoeing, having fires, and generally just chilling out. It was the first time we’d had a relaxing stop since Rugen and we’d needed it.

Daddy’s “helpers”
Best Pitch Ever
Taking to a raft on the swimming lake.

FisherJayne : The only person to catch something with the fishing nets.
I bought a double hammock in Prague…I was not disappointed!

After five nights we headed off happy and relaxed to traverse south Germany and meet the Robinsons!

“Ish bin ein Bearleener”

Corny title I know but I’ve read so much about Berlin and it’s history in the last few weeks that Kennedy’s “We have never had to put a wall up to keep our people in” speech needs a reference.

Berlin is a big capital city, it’s got lots of the bits that other big cities have, but what it has on top is a crazy crazy history of change that in the last 100 and a bit years has been just nuts. This Berlin wears on it’s sleeve (not necessarily by choice) with it’s architecture (not so much old, lots of new, western vs eastern), it’s parks (Templehofer Feld, and some of the huge rubble mounds from post war re-construction), but maybe most is monuments and museums. I get the idea that to be a Berliner means to never forget the recent history of division and war.

I’m not going to talk about what we did in a list as Jayne’s covered that but these are patricular things i’ll remember from Berlin…
– History wherever you look. There’s the obvious, but then the less. We walked out of our camping place into Humboldthain park opposite and there was a hill we walked up for the view. Turns out it was one of many huge mounds created from cleared rubble after the war. I was walking through from checkpoint charlie to the holocaust memorial and stumbled on Hitler’s bunker. It’s just everywhere and not just in the centre.
– An evening ride out into town on my bike. I rode down through Hackescher Markt to Alexanderstraße and Karl-Marx-Allee and being stuck by the sudden change to the monumental DDR architecture. I stopped at a cool outdoor shop called CAMP4 to get Jayne a pannier and me a new shell, then rolled a bit further to the Berlin beer festival which was a bit overwhelming….until I’d had a few beers!

My ugly mug at the top of Karl-Marx-Allee about to do battle with the beer festival!

Battle won

The English bookshop. Sad I know but I’d run out of english books and would rather read paper than tablet if I can. I bought one on Berlin, the Stasi, German history……(and a random booker nominee). I’m justifying the expense on them being souvenirs that are educational!!!
– All of us meeting up and getting lovely street food at a random celebration of something or other near Alexander Platz.
– My afternoon in Berlin with my headphones and time to visit a couple of the more hard to explain (to kids) sights. The parents reading this will understand how nice it was to just be able to roam and not have to stop every five mins for another toilet stop or snack stop. I got to see the Topography of Terror, the holocaust memorial, DDR museum, but most of all I got to walk and make my way from place to place without a pushchair or a child in a sling. It was awesome (I also sneaked in a beer overlooking the river…don’t tell Jayne!

– The wall and how crazy it actually was. I knew, I’d read about it before, but seeing the places and understanding the scale is…well…chilling?

I’ve come away thinking that Berlin would be a fantastic place to spend a lot longer!

Obligatory Wall Pic

It’s Baltic out ‘ere!

This entry is going to cover almost two weeks so I’ll break it into location headings so we can all get though this!

But first an intro…

My overarching memory of the Baltic coast will be…rain. We’ve had about four thunderstorms, barely a day without a downpour and the most mosquitos I’ve ever experienced. Our clothes have been damp…our washing has been damp and getting it to dry it has been a real battle…BUT this is such a beautiful bit of coast. Lovely classy seaside towns with glorious, safe, sandy beaches.

Lubeck – Rain
What a beautiful place, we arrived on a Saturday night (after a quick stop at decathlon where I bought a new chair…very exciting!) and it was lovely to have a quick walk into the town before the kids got too tired. We got up the next day thinking we’d have a nice mooch about…but no…we’d landed ourselves in a town on a Sunday and German opening laws mean that EVERYTHING is closed. It’s something that has caught us out a few times now as this was ditched a long time ago in the UK. It rained on an off all the time in Lubeck, this turned out to be a trend.

Holstentor Gate, not sure if this was before or after or during the rain…probably all of those things!!
German playgrounds are great…they are everywhere and they are nice….and they are actually kept working! oh, and a lot of them have pumps!

Boltenhagen Swingolf – Dry but boggy…from the rain.
We drove out from Lubeck and east along the coast planning to stay somewhere simple and quiet. After a bit of faff we found a lovely little stop for just over five Euros behind a cafe and Swingolf place (which seems to be a bit like a glorified pitch and putt?!). We rode our bikes around and marvelled at the biggest slugs and snails in the world, no joke they were huge, massive. The next morning we had our first taste of beach for this trip down in Boltenhagen… and it was sunny!

Wismar – So…much…rain
After Boltenhagen we drove further east to a place near Wismar with the plan of a couple of days on a bigger campsite and a day trip into town. The campsite was the kind of place we’re not keen on, more holiday park, a bit grim, and very pricey. A bit more planning would have told us this, but that would mean taking things a little more seriously which is a bit lame, right?…right? In the end we stayed in their carpark for half price but could still use their loos, win win. Our plans did however get ruined by rain. This time a deluge which had us packing up and leaving after one night as sitting in the van, in a carpark, watching the rain got boring very quick. The change of plan turned out OK in the end though when we found a free carpark in town, had a look round, then went to the local swimming pool. We’d been promising the kids a swimming pool for a while and this turned out to be quite and experience. Loads of slides, a wave machine, and the whole of the rest of the town looking for something to do…bedlam…and two very excited kids.

Wismar….it rained!

Warenmunde – Some rain, and an eventful carpark.
An evening drive from Wismar brought us to the lovely Warenmunde. A beautiful baltic coastal town just West of Rostock, with a gorgeous beach and for Aidan the most exciting thing, a lighthouse. We stopped for a couple of nights in a carpark just back from the beach and had a great cycle into town where we went up the lighthouse and looked at all the boats in the docks. We even bought a nice new fancy “stunt” kite which then refused to fly as the wind had died down…doh.

Warenmunde lighthouse was a fantastic budget four euro outing :O)
At the top!!!
Warenmunde from the top.

Rugen – Rain-Sun-Mosquito…rinse…repeat.
After a nice early morning dip on Warenmunde beach we got in the van to head to Rugen. We’d had recomendation for Rugen from friends (Thanks Marko and Elena!) and everthing we read sounded great. We covered quite a lot of ground and topped of the gas cyclinders at a garage in Stralsund, which made me jump when the seal on the euro adapter popped and I had LPG firing out everywhere. After that bit of excitment we forged on and got to what was supposed to be a one nighter but ended up being our home for our whole stay on Rugen….Prora Wohmobile Oasis!

Sitting out one of the rainstorms…about an hour after this it was blazing sunshine….not before it soaked all our washing though.
The lake (Kleiner Jasmunder Bodden) just back from the beach was lovely too. Rugen has a lot of different things going on in a small space.
Looking out into the lake.

Highlights of the stay were:
– The beaches, which were long, sandy and really shallow shelving so lovely and warm. Within seconds of arriving at any beach Aidan and Anna started digging holes and building big reservior systems.


– The ruined Nazi resort at Prora that is now being re-developed post re-unification but must have been an amazing and spooky sight in the 80s when it was all ruins for miles and miles.

Riding down to Prora, this was the Kdf Nazi resort nearly 3 miles long. Just behind it is a beeeeeeautiful beach.
Some of the old blocks at the the beginning of being re-furbished.

– Binz, beautiful seaside town, but not in the Skegness way, a lovely classy mix of beachside bars and bucket and spade shops. After Warenmunde we’re figuring they know how to do the seaside on this coast!
– Cycle paths through the woods and along the beaches, we rode for miles and could manage completely without moving the van.
Naturerbe Zentrum, a cool woodland nature centre with a treetop walk and massive tree viewing platform. Also a lovely cafe with veggie options…woop!

Lots of balancey challenges on the treetop walkway.
The view of Rugen from the top was awesome.
Down the inside of the viewing tower.

– Aidan’s top would be HMS Otus, the British submarine that an enterprising guy bought when it was decommissioned in 1990 and moored up for people to view. SO MANY BUTTONS AND PIPES!

A little boys dream…pipes, dials, switches, and two massive engines!

And maybe my favourite bit….
– Anna learning to ride her bike with pedals, she is one determined little lady!!

“I’M DOING IT” She was so pleased with herself…and was so determined….watch out world!

Moving south to Berlin and Parsteiner See – Finally some lovely weather, but oh boy the bugs!
After five nights on Rugen we were feeling itchy to move on (the travelling life is finally getting us) and we struck out for an evening drive off the island to head south. We had a nice little stop in an empty field in the middle of nowhere then moved on to try and find a campsite just shy of Berlin that had been recommended to us (Thanks Tibor/Hensi)…but couldn’t seem to find it anywhere. A friendly local lady took pity on us and sent us off to somewhere which maybe wasn’t where we were aiming but was gorgeous. An old fashioned strip of a campsite along the side of a grogeous lake two kilometres from the Polish border. super relaxed and family oriented with the focus being on swimming in the very shallow and perfectly clear lake. We were on a bit of a schedule as we wanted to get to berlin to see friends and only stayed for one night but evening and morning swims were both beautiful. One thing that was very noticable was a lack of big motorhomes (like ours!!) and many more retro caravans, it all felt like we could well be in the DDR in the 70s….FKK swimming for the locals included!

The swimming lake at Parsteiner See, shallow way out, sandy bottomed and clear. Idyllic.
Camp Seppo…I think I’m starting to relax a bit.

Finding Our Deutschland Mojo

We left the supermarket in Wernigerode and went off into the woods to find somewhere to park up and have dinner. We found a walkers car park and stopped for a few hours and it was lovely, we had dinner, we had a little bike ride into the woods and then we were ready to head off for an evening drive to Wolfsburg.

Wolfsburg was the first piece of the plan for the next few days and it was mostly my choice. Most people won’t know of Wolfsburg but it is secondly a small town with a ruined castle, but firstly, the home of Volkwagen! I’m not exactly a car nut but having had a lot of VWs and having been the custodian of a very rusty old 79 bay window for the last 5 years, Volkswagen holds a bit of pull for me. I was thinking that we’d swing by there as a stopover on the way north and drop in at their museum for a few hours as a kind of pilgrimage and to see some old bugs and buses. How I underestimated how it would turn out.

We used Camperstop and found a stelleplatz right next to the factory, we didn’t realise it was actually in the factory carpark. It was all nice and secure, a little bit noisy as there was a boy racer roundabout nearby (presumably loads of “max powered” golfs ragging around) but that wasn’t anything a price of 6 euros a night couldn’t help us ignore. We had a decent nights sleep but had no idea what to expect the following day but we got the inkling there was more than a museum from the bigtop we could kinda see from the van, oh, and the presence of a Ritz Carlton.

The next day we paid our 30 euros to get into the “Autostadt”. It was awesome. Like a theme park cross with teletubbyland cross with the science museum with a seasoning of car showroom if you looked really hard. It had inflatable things all over for the kids to bounce on, it had loads of simulators for them to learn how to drive, it had the craziest three floor climbing thing that looked like it had been created by an architect, and for Aidan, “sprayers” and fountains everywhere. Oh, and a car museum, which in the end felt like the least important bit.

He’s up there….on the top of the biggun!
Both kids got to make this ball airlifting toy from scratch. No queues, nothing we just wandered up, they cracked out the pillar drills.
Anna showing Jayne her skillzzz
Awesome inflatables everywhere, top age limit 13, #sigh.
I thought I’d found a crack in the perfectness…i thought it was rat…no…Coypus roaming the grounds….really????

We ended up staying for two nights so we could spend a full day there and we still didn’t get to do the kids driving bits or the lake swimming right outside the factory power station. Maybe next time.

After all that excitement our next stop was well needed. We headed to Uhlenköper which is a lovely quiet campsite which is much closer to what we’re used to back home. It’s chilled, all a bit eco, and it had two things that kept the kids and I happy.

Firstly, a natural swimming pool. picture a normal pool but with reed beds down two sides, water like lake water, and loads of tadpoles and water snails swimming with you. Something really pretty special.

Me swimming with the fishes, well, the tadpoles and snails.

Secondly, an old fashioned pump and a sandpit, sometimes its the simple things, especially with my little engineer kids.

Aidan in his element.

We stayed three nights, and really felt like we relaxed. We wavered on staying another night but didn’t want to have to skimp on the Baltic or Berlin before we needed to head south so decided to move.

An uneventful drive (apart from a fun stop at Decathlon) has brought us to Lübeck. I’m typing this in a carpark five minutes from the centre with the the front of the van overlooking a lovely river. Can’t be bad :O)

The Netheregions

My post…my title! This is going to end up being a longer one from me for the end of our Netherlands epiphany.

In the end despite it’s loveliness we did end up leaving Delft on the Friday morning. We were a little torn but we wanted to take the kids to do something really Dutch on the Friday before the weekend so we decamped and went to see the windmills at Zaanse Schans.

They were awesome. There was a touristy village bit with clogs and cheese and trinkets but the windmills were great, especially since it was windy enough for them to be running. We took the kids round three of them, dye grinding, oil pressing, and a saw mill. Being able to wander round and see them all running was pretty impressive.

Me and my Anna…that’s her new “cheese” face.
If you know my boy…you’d know this was heaven.

After the windmills we headed off to Hoge Veluwe National Park. We stayed in their campsite which was lovely and much closer to the kind of camping fields we’re used to staying in with our other van (should do a page for that!). Open meadow, lovely facilities, pitches roughly marked and not really adhered to. We wanted to give ourselves a break as we felt like we’d been moving a lot so we decided to stay two nights, which in the end turned into three because the park was so great.

The park was the same as the rest of the Netherlands, based around bikes. It’s mostly forest with some open land that is supposed to resemble the African veldt. Its all criss-crossed with bike lanes full of people on “white bikes” which are free to use anywhere in the park. It has an art gallery and sculpture garden but predictably all we did was ride around the woods exploring for two full days. Aidan is getting EVEN faster on his bike and we’ve finally relented and let Anna have her pedal bike albeit without the actual pedals on, despite it being too big for her she’s doing really well.

The other really nice thing about this stop was having company. The Hamilton family we met in Bruges had the same place on their list of Netherlands “places to see” and we had a two night overlap with them. The kids loved playing with Edie and Flynn and for us it really nice to have a couple of evenings sitting out late watching bats and drinking beer with Sinead and Steve. The only negative is that I’m now lusting after a fancy torch!! Here’s their blog check it out.

The Seppings peloton taking a break (note the cheese face!)
Anna on her pedal bike (sans pedals)
A “white bike” and my steed, note Anna’s bike AND my rucksack on the back, the width caught me out a few time when I was mucking about

We left the park on Monday morning and felt ready to move on. We went north and dropped in on a touristy spot called Giethoorn which is a sort of quaint village with canals for roads. We rented a whisper boat and buzzed slowey about with Aidan on the tiller.

Helmsman’s eye view.
Aidan takes control….arrrrrgggghhhh!!!

After that we started to head roughly east towards Germany and picked somewhere random to stop from Camperstop…and boy what a choice…it was awesome. Five euros got us a stop in a lovely couples piece of land that they had made as natural as possible with ponds and trees. They also had some things that I liked a lot and something the kids liked a lot. PIGS (Hungarian Woolbacks!) for me, and a trampoline (springy!) for the kids. We got oursleves a lovely pitch hidden away in the wild bit, and settled in, then… rained…well…it poured….40mm in about an hour. I started to get nervous and we had to do an emergency reverse through the boggy ground to make sure we would be able to get the van out. We ended up closer to the house which was much nicer as we got to chat to Anika a lot (and be closer to the pigs!!!).

Daddy takeover!!
My friends…I miss them already.

The following day it was time to head to Germany….off we went…we’re leaving the Netherlands having liked it far more than any of us expected to.