THE FIRST 50 DAYS…
1 day in Scotland.
6 days in England.
41 days in France.
2 days in Spain.
2,575 miles driven so far.
To be away from home for 6 months takes a fair bit of planning and organising, and, some might say, sacrifice, as we won’t see family, friends and neighbours for a long time, but, hopefully the experience of enjoying many memorable new experiences will adequately compensate.
50 days in, we both thought we would give our individual thoughts on the experience to date, so here goes…
THE VIEW FROM THE DRIVER’S SEAT…
So far all has gone as well as we could possibly have hoped for. With 6 months to play with we are pacing ourselves, not just to have easy drives, each, or every other day, but to see the ever changing countryside in the detail that a much shorter holiday simply would not allow.
Our first visit to France, a day trip, was in 1974 and we were regular visitors through the 1980s and beyond. Brittany and Normandy were about as far as we could manage in a three week holiday, remember it was 500 miles from our home town of Falkirk to Plymouth before we even got on a ferry to France. There were 2 years, pre-children, when we ventured further, once down the west coast and up the Loire Valley and once as far as Bordeaux and Cognac. This trip to date has been spent re-visiting many of the towns and villages we have been to over the years and it has been a pleasure on a number of counts.
DRIVING – is a doddle in France, ok, they drive on the wrong side of the road, but once you come off the ferry it all falls into place. The roads seem much quieter than the UK and the drivers not as aggressive, but it is a bigger country with approximately the same population so it stands to reason the population is spread out a bit more. I have avoided large cities, motorways and toll roads which invariably makes the route longer but we do get to see the countryside and the smaller villages, you wouldn’t see hurtling down a motorway.
NAVIGATION – I do have a personal navigator who has as much difficulty pronouncing some of the town and street names as I do, as well as a propensity for taking us the most direct route even if it means single track roads, I refer of course the the voice of Google Maps, how did we ever get anywhere without it? My Navigator in human form is of great assistance in interpreting which exit off a roundabout I’m supposed to take, but there are times when we circle a roundabout a few times before all 3 of us agree on the correct route. Even if sometimes I do take the wrong road its not the end of the world and Google Maps either tells me to turn back or it accepts what I’ve done and re-routes.
LOUIS the McLOUIS – has performed brilliantly, as it has done for the last 10 years. Having a 3 ltr engine helps as it makes the driving so much easier. This summer we renewed the brakes, front and rear, along with the front tyres and this gives peace of mind that the main components were ready for a long journey.
AIRES – are the greatest invention ever for motorhomers and the French and Germans with their Stellplatz are to be commended for introducing these parking areas to virtually every town and village, ranging for free to $10 a night, with a few pricier exceptions in busier tourist destinations. For that you get a safe and secure place to park, take on fresh water and dump the grey water from the sinks and shower, as well as empty the toilet, and in some you can connect to mains electricity.
LANGUAGE – With so many visits to France over the years it is fairly easy to get by, and as long as you make the effort, people will be accommodating in return. The Google Translate App on our phones is a real bonus if we do get stuck. Spain is going to be a different kettle of fish as we can’t spend months in the country with just ‘dos San Miguels por favor’ and even in the couple of days in the country so far, I’ve noticed that the combination of a language I don’t understand and the speed its spoken at, may be an problem! I’m not even thinking about Portugal yet, as I’ve never been before, so wouldn’t even know how to order those 2 beers!
THE FRENCH – Contrary to popular mythology the French are very easy to get along with, are very polite and always say Bonjour as you pass them by and are keen to help out if you get stuck with things, as we found recently trying to get a barrier to open to exit an Aire. I wonder how much the Ecosse sticker on the back of Louis helps us as the French and Scots have a long time friendship going back to the Auld Alliance of 1294 between the kingdoms of Scotland and France.
FOOD – The French supermarkets are something to behold, crammed with every delicacy under the sun and the variety, quality and freshness of the produce is simply amazing. That said it is more expensive than back home, even Aldi and Lidl are slightly more expensive, caused in some part to the weakening of the pound against the euro. The only things cheaper here seem to be wine and diesel. We are eating far healthier food, with the odd lapse, and feeling the benefit of it.
TECHNOLOGY – We are keeping in touch with back home via this Blog, e mails, Viber and Hangouts for face to face messaging. My phone is on a BT contract and it can tether to our other devices while our Huawei wi-fi device has a Vodafone sim so between them there is 50gb of data, more than enough to keep in touch with events back home and download Netflix programs and Podcasts to keep us entertained of an evening. Pictures are taken on my phone and the videos on a GoPro Hero 4.
ENTERTAINMENT – At home we watch some TV most nights and one of the biggest unknowns is how to cope without a TV in the van for so long a period. No MOTD and BBC4 foreign crime dramas for me on a Saturday night
and no Strictly or Masterchef etc for The Navigator (shame)…
When the van was purchased in June 2007 a rule was made that a TV would not be fitted as the purpose of the van was to get away from the stresses and strains of work to relax, read, listen to music, the radio and podcasts, as well as walk and cycle. There was always Sky Plus to record anything decent to come back to, but that is not an option when the trip is going to last six months! Our 9 week trip in 2015 was in June and July when it was very hot and ideal for getting out and about – this trip is over the winter months with the light fading at 6ish and the likelihood of some inclement weather along the way!
A favourite evenings entertainment in the van is listening to Podcasts, with Desert Island Discs a particular favourite, along with Heritage Tracks from Radio 4, the Frank Skinner Show on Absolute Radio and the best by far is the Freddy Flintoff/ Robbie Savage Podcast from Radio 5. The beauty of Podcasts is that more can be downloaded as and when wi-fi is available, as can newspapers and the news and weather from our phone Apps. What is your favourite Podcast? Let us know in the comments below.
Another new innovation for us on this trip is a Netflix subscription which we have never tried before. At £5.99 a month to stream unlimited films and TV shows from their listings it seems such a great bargain. I also download a few as well for those nights without an internet connection. I’m not sure why we’ve not subscribed before. We have just finished watching the last episode (the 30th) of Better Call Saul so withdrawal symptoms are setting in. This is a much watch series if you saw Breaking Bad with many of the same characters in it as well, and the great news is that a 4th series will be available sometime next year.
Updating this Blog and editing videos for YouTube is keeping me fully occupied too. Another thing that will be maintained is my website, OOTDOORS which is up and running 24/7 and only needs tinkering with now rather than building or adding products.
These entertainment contingencies are for rainy days and the dark nights but off course we won’t see rain for the 6 months so outdoor pursuits like walking and cycling and exploring the countryside, villages, towns and cities along the route will hopefully be the main pastime…
Favourite places so far – San Sebastian, St Malo and La Rochelle.
Worst place – none at all. I would re-visit every single one.
This first 50 days has been spent mostly in France revisiting many places we have been to before, whereas the next 50 days, and beyond, will be spent in Spain and Portugal where it will be virtually all new to us…
THE VIEW FROM THE NAVIGATORS SEAT…
50 Days in and The Driver has asked for a few thoughts from The Navigator on how it’s going so far.
First of all it doesn’t seem like 50 days since we left Scotland. There was so much build up and organising to that day and I thought it was all in hand and nothing had been overlooked, but still as we drove out of Ardrishaig, I kept thinking we have missed something, or we have forgotten something. Fortunately, if we did, it has not come to light as yet. All seems to have gone according to plan and we have done so much, and seen so much, time has gone past really quickly.
You have to be in a different mind set living in a small area with little cupboard space for clothes, food etc but I think we haven’t done too bad, we don’t seem to have brought anything that is surplus to requirements, likewise we haven’t said oh I wish I had remembered…….You can’t just have things in a cupboard in case you fancy that to eat one night, you have to have meals planned ahead and not be wasteful. As we were leaving for 6 months things were run down in the house and we then just loaded up everything else that was in the kitchen. Now that we have worked our way through those ingredients we are now buying local produce, which is getting us more into the feel for living in France. 6 months is more a way of life rather than packing everything onto a 2 or 3 week holiday. Don’t get me wrong, we are having a holiday and a great one at that, but at a much more leisurely pace.
Not only does food need to be well thought out but essentials like laundry does too. When your down to the last couple of pairs of knickers you need to find a laundromat. Thankfully they are plentiful here, most of the
big supermarkets strangely have them in a quiet spot in their car parks like this one in the picture, although most are enclosed.
So, while The Driver gets his list and shopping bag, I get the wash done. He is well warned not to go ‘off piste’ but usually, as at home, something extra finds its way into the basket.
There are the obvious things that are missed from home – family and friends – but not much else. I think our days here are taken up with new sights and experiences so that activities we do back home, and enjoy, are not missed too
much. The whole point of the trip was to challenge ourselves and do something different.
One of the nicest things is meeting different people. In France we can manage to get by and understand what is being said to us more than we can converse back but it doesn’t seem to deter who we are talking to. In San Sebastian we had two extremes. Our Spanish is non existent but when Angus was filming along the esplanade a group of Dutch teenage girls who were on an educational trip wanted to be in the film and they sat beside us for ages and spoke in probably better English than us.
Then later, as we were just enjoying people watching, I went to get some teas and an 88 year old man sat beside Angus and when he spoke and Angus answered he only understood English, he spoke perfect English also as he had worked in the Spanish Embassy in London. Hopefully by the time we leave Spain we will have mastered a few words.
As our family live a distance away we are used to face to face chat with Hangouts on a weekly basis and keeping in touch via text, Viber and E Mail hasn’t changed but we are really looking forward to Jill, Simon and Emma joining us for a week in January.
I think when you do something like this there is always a little niggle at the back of your mind if something was to happen back home it would not be as easy as locking up the house and getting in the car to deal with it, but I’m sure we would manage and you can’t go through life thinking what if. That’s not to say next spring I won’t be glad to sleep in my own bed and have a fully stocked kitchen, a roaring fire on a cold night and an unlimited supply of hot water – but I’m loving this adventure too.
By the time I get home our hairdresser Louise will have a job to do to get my hair back in some sort of order as the lack of a hair dryer etc results in a few bad hair days, as this picture taken at Mont St Michel highlights! Hopefully I can find an English speaking hairdresser in Benidorm when we pass through in early December.
Each day has a new horizon and new challenges with the language, but we have never been stuck so far and I’m looking forward to the next 50!