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campervan

Family Travel

Campervanning around Spain with two kids, a surfboard and a caterpillar

25 November, 2013

A Spanish señora, as bronze as she is old, as rotund as she is wrinkly, wearing nothing but the very clothes she was born in raises her ams in the air and claps, everything jiggling. This was not the start of a rude flamenco though, but the middle of a series of star jumps, half submerged in the Mediterranean sea. Superbly, gloriously uninhibited.

Only in Spain.

We are in a desolate, sheltered cove just beneath an old castle built by the Moors. I’m sat here with Juno, poking plump pink jewels from a pomegranate in to our mouths. Tim and Ramona are building the castle in miniature form out of sand and there in the sea just behind them was this buxom old lady, butt naked, tanned deep in every crease. Doing aqua aerobics.

The only other people in sight are a Wedding Cake Top couple perched on the rocks next to the castle having their photos taken. They preen into every classic pose, her glistening white dress billowing, his waistcoat stiff.

It’s as surreal as a Dali, who hails from just around the corner. The sheer peculiarity of the scene strikes my heart with the wand of joy and my brain with the wonder of how we get to be here now, doing this.

These funny little moments happen a lot on the road. I feel tender; easily surprised, amused, unbound and unburdened.

It is obviously the basic awesomeness of having very little to do but sit around in the sun having bizarre things take place around us while the alternative was simply slogging away in the grimey depths of winter in South London.

And perhaps this general, elated sense of feeling is simply just an extension of that; the sense of alternatives. After getting totally lost amongst a tangle of tiny, dodgy streets in the middle of a massive city, coming across a huge square in the shadow of a beautiful basilica where it seems a micro fiesta is taking place just feels completely exhilarating. Because the alternative was getting mugged and stranded and still lost. Waking up next to a roaring ocean, the sun bouncing into the window, is a moment filled with relief that we didn’t get turfed out of the free parking spot by the Guardia over night.

(Or maybe aqua aerobics in the nick, grand basilicas and sunrises on a beach are simply enough in themselves.)

I think I could travel like this forever. This lazy, wild, seize-every-moment or just-sit-around-if-we-want kind of living.

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Back on the beach, the lady wades out of the water, pubes dripping, and two enormous Alsatians have bounded onto the castle tower and are barking aggressively at the Just Marrieds. Juno has cast the pomegranate aside in favour of a gob full of sand. Ramona has begun to cry and I realise it is way past lunch and all we have is a gritty pomegranate and half a packet of rice cakes we opened when we first hit the road 4 months ago.

When we first left England our Campervan was jam packed. But new things have been added everyday. There is a Julia Donaldson book, A Squash and a Squeeze, where a wise old man advises a woman who feel her house is too small to take in collection of farm animals. (Mansplaining, I think it is called these days.) At the end of the book she gets rid of the animals and realises her house is perfect for one.

We have acquired a double buggy, for rampaging over dunes. And a secondhand surfboard, which we couldn’t resist but takes up a lot of space. And a pet caterpillar which doesn’t take up much physical space but rather a lot of mental space, trying to keep him alive amidst the mayhem. (We shouldn’t have let him in. It will only end in heartache. His name is, predictably, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.) I concentrate on the principle of A Squash and a Squeeze; this is great preparation for whatever new home we end up in eventually – anything will feel like a mansion compared to this. But mostly I swear as my foot gets stuck in a potty as I’m rummaging in the dirty laundry for the least stinky tee shirt and I bump my head on a bunk. (We are still bumping our heads.) It is a tiny, tiny space but we’ve somehow managed to misplace our two knives so I’m crouching next to the surfboard cutting an onion with a pocket knife.

Calm descends on the beach again. The Guard Dogs have disappeared, the bride and groom have gone to their banquet somewhere and the bare naked lady has gone. We caper around the beach as uninhibited as her, the need for lunch suspended. We are roaring lions, we are diggers, we are splashers, we are laughing baboons.

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We are on the same team the four of us. It’s my favourite thing about this trip. With no agenda there are very few power struggles, with all the day to accomplish very few tasks there is no stress bleeding into the adult-child communication, making a gory mess. We all go to bed at 10pm and sleep until the delectable hour of 8am.

We’ve crawled slowly down the southern coast of Spain, coasting from cove to cove, and have landed in the barren, rocky beauty of the Cabo De Gata. We are climbing hills and collecting shells. Foraging pomegranates and oranges. We saw Africa on the horizon, it was pretty epic.

We are unfettered. Free as birds. Each one of us as wild and excitable as toddlers.

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We pack up our beach things, now covered in pomegranate, sand and rice cakes gone mushy with sea water. We need to find a shop not having a siesta so we can buy lunch stuff. As we scramble up the hill we pass another old soul, kindred of the Señora, a man this time, himself completely starkers. We obviously missed the NUDISTA sign posts (again!) You know the Nudist Beach signs here are simply stick figures? Two stick figures, one with with two breasts and one with a penis almost as long as his leg. I imagine that for this beach they were probably naked male and female stick figures doing star jumps. An Official Aqua Aerobics in the Altogether beach.

Only in Spain.

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Family Travel

France and Switzerland with two kids, a Campervan and one pot

1 September, 2013

Last night Tim, after a meal preparation that involved me angrily pouring cooked macaroni into the sink because I’d used up all the containers and needed the pan for the sauce, ever so sensitively, asked if he could mention something… “You’re kind of swinging from mood to mood Lu- intense happiness to extreme annoyance… What’s the story?” I haven’t been getting much sleep- Juno is waking a lot at night at the moment- but there is more to it than tiredness. This kind of living seems to provoke big emotions in me. Being in these wild and glorious places with startling beauty on our doorstep and the freedom to roam and explore makes me SO FLIPPING HAPPY. Like dance around, laugh out loud, shout WOOHOOOOO in a tunnel happy. But the fact is, that to experience this we have to live in a tiny van with one pan, a host of mosquitoes and two kids with needs (NEEDS! It’s absurd!) There is also the sometimes stress of trying to find a place to stay each night, weighing up free but possibly risky riversides and car parks against the security but crazily high prices of campsites.

It’s hard to believe we only left England 16 days ago. It feels like we’ve done SO much; how are we possibly going to survive the next 80 days?! We’ll combust with the combination of extreme feelings of joy and frustration and contendedness and stress!

We have just entered Germany. France and Switerland have been amazing… Here is the run down:

Our holiday really began once we got to Troyes, somewhere Northish in France. We went to the little lake about 20k north of there and camped and swam for two days. Bliss. We planned to go far on the third day but fell a little bit in love with Lac De Liez just in Langres where we had just stopped for lunch. It was truly gorgeous so lunch turned into an afternoon visit which turned into a night time free camp which turned into two lovely days! We then drove up to a tiny village Mouthier Haute Pierre about half an hour away from Besancon where we swam in the freezing river and climbed a waterfall. We drove an hour South to Lake Ilay and free camped in the most tranquil spot on the south of the lake, having campfires and cooking potatoes and melting cheese on there. After a couple of days we had an epic drive over the mountains through HAIL, yes! HAIL, to a village called Le Grand Bornand in the Alps by Annecy. There we met up with my sister and her family and enjoyed the biggest kid’s festival in Europe. It was spectacular- so much creativity and not a jot of consumer culture. A hand crafted merrygoround and an enormous musical garden made of recycled stuff. It was brilliant to have so much space dedicated to kid’s autonomous play and we think we might try and pull something off like this one day…. Watch this space! We were really sad to say good bye to my sister and my nephews and nieces – Ramona shed all our tears for us.

We beat a hurried path into Switzerland through Geneva and up to Gruyere where we explored this cheesey village in the pouring rain. Such an enchanting place with a castle and mountains with musical cows (well, bells) that Ramona loved. We camped in the car park there with a couple of other motorhomes- killing our first massively rainy afternoon by making hot chocolates, reading and playing our Ukelele squished in the van.

We went to drive by Lake Gruyere but spotted an island in the middle with the ruins of a monastery, that, coupled with the azure waters enticed us in. We stripped off and with a few hoots waded in completely in the nick. Gosh, skinny dipping makes your lungs explode with life!

We meandered up to Bern and after a bit of deliberation handed over £25 for a night at the campsite on the river. It gave us space to stretch out and we were able to walk in to town and float down the river and explore the free zoo right over bridge. We were only going to stay for an afternoon and night but once again just couldn’t leave! I think it might be my favourite European city. It is worth going just to sail yourself for miles down the cold, clear waters of the Aare alone. Food and accommodation is super expensive in Switzerland but there are plenty of free things for a family to enjoy.

We popped to Basel, another lovely city, free camping just on the outskirts. But Switzerland was making us feel pretty skint so we were pleased to arrive in Germany yesterday. Freiberg is where we’ll be for a little while now.

Perhaps we have come too far too quickly; perhaps for our own sanity we need to stay for longer in a place, to create microhomes and adventure from a base. And perhaps we need to invest in another pan.

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Photos take forever to upload so sorry there aren’t more! X