Friday, 2 November 2012

Our first 'Big' Adventure! Part 1: Gaffa tape, croissants, Volcanoes....and lots of rain!

Well hey.

How you doing? Have you missed me?

I’m sorry it’s been ages, I know.

To be honest I’ve been in a very can’t-be-arsed mood with the blog since Pete finished his job.  At first because there was so much to do to get ready for the trip and then because we’ve been on a very exciting adventure!

After months of planning and plotting and praying and stressing, when Pete’s last day of work came along it was actually just a really boring quiet work day. No big fireworks. No carriage clocks, or teary-eyed speeches or last day pranks. Just "That's it. It's over!" To be honest we didn't have time to sit around thinking it over all that much because the very next day we set off on a big adventure in the ‘bago, just like I said we would. Until we’d actually left, I didn’t believe it was going to happen. There was so much to do and pack and plan on top of the usual stuff. 

And here we are!

So what’s it like living in a bus?

Well we loved being in her from the off, even on those first few mornings when it was so cold we could see our own breath in the morning! I love her interior a whole lot less now thanks to the detritus of having four stinky boys and a dog slowly turning her into a slightly...interesting smelling vessel (!) in spite of constant vaccuuming and more eco fabric fresheners than you could fill a swimming pool with.... but no matter. Now the van just smells of dog and cleaner - in a delicious two-layer effect. Barf. But it's ok. Now we're having sunny days and windows open and we're outside more anyways so we don't care!

When she purrs and kicks into life it’s as if she were human, our good ship. You can tell she's from Florida, 'cos she drives like a dream when it's sunny and bitches n moans when it's damp - that's my girl!

She has lots of quirks that we’ve been getting used to, and we now know all the tricks of how to run her smoothly. She’s taken a pounding from the inside, having four boys in her, and Pete has done a great job today of gaffer taping drawers back together again, tape the fridge door shut so it doesn’t fly open when we’re driving along (We learnt this the hard way), and there are places that leak, squeak, need pressing just so. All praise the wonderful gaffa tape that holds everything together!!!

Our LPG ran out in the first week because someone left a water heater on for two days and our connector doesn’t fit any in France – no-one sells the adapter- we tried so many places and have now given up! So instead we bought a cheap two-ring cooker stove top thingy from Carrefour, which we can cook pasta and heat up soups etc. It took us two weeks to do this though, so we tried using our microwave, which was crap, and eating out, which was expensive, or eating baguettes, which we got a tiny bit sick of. I am a really happy mama now we have a cooker again, so long as we have an electric hook up. I rather love the fact that our lives are so simple, and that electricity has become a luxury, to be excited about. I feel myself appreciating water and other basic neccessities in a whole new way. Coming from a comfortable home with a cleaner, here we now do everything ourselves, and have a few routines down pat. No matter how much laudry we do though, there's always a pile left over. Oh well. We’re mostly sticking to staying at campsites with electric hook-up at the moment, or aires. We’ve stayed in some fab places so far!

In Paris we stayed in a woodland campsite near Versailles, where we could go for forest walks with our doggy Martha  and pick chestnuts in the crisp autumn air, but hop on the metro and be in the centre of Paris in 20 minutes! I had a fab day with the boys going to the Musee D’Orsay where we saw paintings by Van Gogh and Gaugin, amongst others. Finn and Herb, who got turned onto Van Gogh through Doctor Who, were really excited to see the familiar picture of Van Gogh’s bedroom, of his starry nights, and those haunting self-portraits. We took a pousse-pousse  ride to Tour Montparnasse and saw the panorama of Paris from 57 floors up, including the Eiffel Tower. It was a half sunny half rainy day so we didn’t bother with the ET itself – but no need, Tour Montparnasse was so fab we didn’t mind! We had a slap-up dinner in one of those restaurants that you think will turn out to be an over-priced tourist rip-off, but turned out to be one of the most delicious meals we ever ate.
Pete ventured in with the young’uns the following day and they went to the Eiffel Tower and an aquarium. His day rained more than ours though!

Moving on from there we headed south and got as far as Clermont Ferrand for the night. Pretty boring campsite but by a fab stream which the boys enjoyed dare-devilishly crossing and a park, and a good place to get to our next destination – Vulcania. On a day that was blowing a gale we visited this really fab place. It’s part modernist designer building, part eden project, part natural history museum, part imax type cinema, with a few simulators. We loved it and the boys loved the fact we were in a real actual (dormant) volcano!
After that we had a crazy day driving up and down and round and round the beautiful mountains of the Auvergne. Eating our way through more delicious pastries. What had looked do-able in a half-day turned into a day and a half, but we didn’t mind too much. We were getting into winging it with the bus, following our noses and finding places to stay on the wing. Being 2,000m up a mountain in our bus was shit-scary, exhilarating, breath-taking and magical, all at once! By the time we arrived way down south in Nimes, we had missed our horse-riding lessons in the Camargue and broke down as we pulled into the campsite! 


A phone call to the AA and some fiddling with the bus and we were all set to sleep in the car-park just a tantalising, agonising, 20 metres from the campsite, without leccy. But by some miracle, after turning the key for half an hour on and off and her being completely dead, Pete started her up and so we just made it into our camping spot and so were hooked up to electrics – phew. Good old ‘Bago! Next morning – dead again. Then she started! Turned out we needed a new battery so a day of fiddling round getting that sorted, but by late avo we were ready to roll again, so we headed off to the Pont Du Gard.
If you have never heard of this, it is a perfectly preserved and imposing Roman Aqueduct which you can walk across and is surrounded by beautiful walking paths, with a little river flowing underneath. It’s a breath-taking and magnificent bit of engineering and in the fading sunlight looked especially pretty. I especially loved reading all the Victorian graffiti…. Reminded me of the time we went to Shakespeare’s birthplace and I loved the old graffiti there too– Charles Dicken’s  woz ere…. And that typa thing :-)

We didn’t really spend all that much time in Nimes because we were so charmed by Arles, our next stop, that we ended up mucking around there instead. After lots of swearing and driving down too-narrow streets we eventually found somewhere to put our thirty foot baby and walked into town, playing in a beautiful park and visiting the Roman Amphitheatre. Again, it was pretty impressive. I know the Romans could be real shitbags, but they really did know how to build stuff that lasts! And sitting on those benches looking down onto the arena and the surrounding rooftops you can’t help but feel a little impressed with those lion-fighting lunatics.

After Arles we headed to the coast and drove through the eerie marshlands of the camargue, where it seems every fifty metres or so, was a smallholding with the famous white horses. I was disappointed not to see them wild, but hey ho. We rocked up at the sweet little town of Sainte-Marie-Sur-Mer and found the campsite, and indeed town, were really laid back.  The kids went swimming on the first day, at the pool on site and made friends with some other kids camped up near us. There was a fair share of tourist tat shops but also a nice café culture. This is no Nice or Cannes  though – this place doesn’t take itself too seriously and it was a lovely few days. Pete and the boys went for a walk on the lagoon behind our campsite and and they saw wild flamingos – wow! I wanted to see them the next day. That night it blew a gale and we had almost no sleep and when we realised the next day would be no better, we decided it was time to move on. Oh well I did at least get a fab pair of purple high-heels shoes - the only high heels that I ever tried on in my life that I felt I could wear every day. If they weren't so funky I would but they're a bit flash to wear every day so I'm saving them.
Next stop,  Narbonne.  Very pretty riverside. A pretty town but the weather was wiiiiiiinnnndy. And cold. And wet.  This was a place we farted around on the outskirts of a lot. Including two time-warp visits to Carrefour - anyone whose been to one of these will know exactly what I mean!!! We did have a lovely diner in Narbonne one evening though and went to a watercolour art exhibition which the kids enjoyed.

Oh the magic of our next place – we arrived late on a blowy night at the aire in Carcassonne, hoping for a better morning. An aire is basically a glorified car-park for buses n vans like ours. Some have electric hook-up points, some don't. This one didn't - boo! Oh well. We woke up all excited about the day ahead and it was a sunny day, though cold. Carcassonne is quite simply the most magical fairytale place to find yourself – like walking round on a film set for robin hood, or the three muskateers. I loved it here and Pete and the boys were enchanted and thought it was the best castle they’d ever been to as well. From the foot of the hill it just looks like any national trust castle, but when you get up there, it’s a whole citadel, a whole wee medieval-y town, with real lives being lived out up there. It’s a maze of little streets and cafes and shops selling things like the lord of the rings ring that herbie bought, and all things medieval. Fabulous!

That night we stayed back in Narbonne then woke up and our thoughts turned to warmer climes – we’re truly sick of being cold and damp and blown to bits by now. So we went swimming and the woman on the desk said no shorts - arse!!! So Pete and the boys had to buy Speedos costing 37 euros, which was a big expense. But the pool was fab, and te kids got clean!!!

After the swim, we drove on to Collioure  for another windy wet night atop a positively beautiful little town with a fab arts scene and history – I can see why. From our hilltop aire I was charmed and tantalised but we woke up in the morning and decide to head for Barcelona…..which is where I write this now, the sound of crashing waves rolling over and over onto the beach, camped up by the patch of blue sky we had followed all day as we drove into a rainy spain and mourned the loss of patisseries which we have become addicted to and which we miss even now.  It's not a bad trade off though - at last I think we have some sun!

I write this on the terrace  beach, after a day trip into Barcelona to the Picasso museum, walking through La Ramblas and Park Ciutadella. Pete's going to see Barca football team play on Saturday night with Indie which they're both very excited about. The we may head back north to Figueres for a bit. And then on, further south, where we are hoping to really kick back and stay for longer.

Our van, our clothes and us, may stink, we may be cramped, living on top of each other, with a long list of petty logistical hiccups, petty arguments and complaints. But then we get clean, we get out, it's a glorious day, or we see something amazing that reminds us of how lucky we are to be doing this amazing trip.

We’re playing more together. Learning together. Watching  Asterix movies (The one with Cleopatra is fucking hilarious!). Loving walks with our dog. Listening to audios….Lord of The Rings….Kensuke’s Kingdom….Alone on a wide wide sea. Pete’s been reading to the boys every night….which I find myself listening to. The kids are speaking bits of french and spanish as if it were the most natural thing in the world. How cool is that?

 I lay in Pete’s arms at the end of each day happy to have lived closer to the elements, closer to each other, winging it.

What a fabulous trip. 

What bliss!


  1. Wow Paula! Sounds so fantastic!! I'm so very jealous of the adventure you guys are having! I hope you continue to have fun & I shall look forward to reading more about your travels. Take care
    Zoe xx

  2. Ah sounds great, glad you're all enjoying it!!
    Sam xx

  3. Oh wow! It sounds awesome. Miss you guys xx

  4. Thanks guys - miss you too!
    Thanks Zoe, will be sure to write more at some point...
    Peace and love xxx

  5. Sounds amazing!! We had a family film evening together recently and watched RV with Robin Williams, we thought of you guys! Miss you lots
    Maddie xxx

  6. Everyone keeps telling us about that film! I'm sure we'll watch it sometime. Love n hugs to you Maddie x