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Family Travel

The desert hippy who laid a golden poo

5 December, 2013

“I’m doing a seminar in menstrual activism this afternoon, if you want to come?”

Hold on. Menstrual? Activism?

“Um. Oh. I, er…”

I am not very often taken aback. Especially when it comes to bodily functions and protest. These are, like, two of my fave things, y’know?

We were in the middle of the Spanish desert, in the barren landscape of the Deep South, staying in a tiny oasis – an alive, green, eco community bustling with hippies. At least once an hour someone said something completely absurd and completely accurate.

“Excrement is GOLD, worth more than money!” (This statement was accompanied by a handful of “humanure” shoved under my surprised, and therefore unfortunately gaping, nostrils.)

This was Sunseed, a group of people devoted to living sustainably, off grid, who were slowly restoring one of the desert’s many “lost villages”. The project began as a way of developing technologies that harness the earth’s power and an attempt to thrive in a pretty hostile land. It continues to do that, hosting volunteers from around the world who will hopefully return home bubbling with ideas about solar energy, converting waste into, er, gold for the garden, and generally living in peace with their environment.

We pooed into compost bins, built walls with local clay, harvested pumpkins and every vegetable under the sun to eat, prepared olives for jarring, showered with the river water heated by the sun, ate every meal together, talked a lot about menstruation. IT WAS SO FLIPPING INSPIRING! .

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We spent the spare hours wandering around the desert, poking about in ruins, buildings long abandoned by villagers unable to survive in such a dry land. We watched a whole family of turtles sunbathing by the local river and tracked some wild pigs along the gorge. Tim and I spent whole afternoons discussing the eco-house we will build when we get to New Zealand.

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(I know; this is the MILLIONTH thing we have seen on this trip and decided we are going to do it. You’ve got to dream big, right? So far it seems that we are going back to New Zealand to create an imaginative kid’s festival celebrating the wilderness, run a Forest School, on a bit of land where we are building our own house out of clay, with a compost loo, in an intentional community full of families loving each other and eating together, whilst building a vineyard, an avocado orchard and running a Centre for Peaceful Adult-Child Relationships. Hmmm. It’s all compatible. We just need that cloning technology to hurry the heck up. Or YOU could join in, if you like? Come on, it’ll be WELL fun!)

I bloody love hippies. I love being in an environment where people are so passionate and it was a JOY being amongst other people for whom it makes complete sense to not wash their hair, rather than being the weird one. I didn’t get to the seminar on menstrual activism but I read a brilliant book on it that evening and am completely convinced! (It’s going to be a whole other post: WHAT A TREAT FOR YOU!)

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It was just five little days amongst our kind new friends at of Sunseed but it was like stepping in to new pair of boots; it kind of got us ready for a new home and life in New Zealand. It hasn’t felt that real, the whole “moving to NZ lalala” thing, but imagining the kind of eco-lifestyle we will nurture over there got us well excited. As long as I don’t think too hard about the family and friends we will be leaving in England. *Heaving sob*

We are on the very last leg of our European roadtrip, just five more days. We have passed through the snowy peaks around Granada, and we are now in sunny, warm Seville. We had to say another farewell to Betty a couple of days ago – can you actually believe it?- as she blew another head gasket and required £700 to fix her up that we just don’t have. If we hadn’t already spent £2000 on her pesky innards this trip alone we might have considered it but we decided to get her towed home for a DIY job over Christmas. It was a bit stressful but we are having a cool time zipping around in a rental car courtesy of our insurance, so it could be a lot worse. *Frank Spencer voice* Oooh, Bettty.

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

Secondhand Spain: Who needs fish when you’ve got fleas?

10 November, 2013

Has it been a bit seriouspants around here lately or what? What with taking on a child beating tome, battling the toddler tamers and accepting the heavy mantle of world change from Gandhi; we need a rest. Let’s have a rinse out with the sweet balm of fancy free second hand thrifting…

We had planned on shooting straight down the middle of Spain to a nature reserve some friends told us about, but on the ferry across the Atlantic we got an email from my distant cousins telling us about a camp their colleagues run on the Costa Blanca. We looked it up on Google Images, seemed pretty nice, we changed our minds and headed to Denia. 4 days, 600 kilometres (er, yeah, we are going quite, quite slow with Betty) and 17 million rounds of Annoying Kid’s Songs Volume 1 and 2 we found it. And it was hot, reeeeeeeally flipping hot.

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On the way we passed through the beautiful cities of Bilbao, Longrono, Zaragosa and Valencia. Our first night night traipsing the streets of a city was really baffling. Why on earth were there so many people spilling out all over the streets, kids running wild around the plazas with balloons, dolled up old ladies dipping churros? Was there a carnival happening? A national holiday?

I had an awkward conversation with a stranger; “What is everyone doing? Why are they here?” “Er, well, this is a beautiful town!” “No, but why are they having fun, in this place, is there A Thing happening?” “This is what we do. On ordinary nights. Even when it’s cold and dark. We leave our houses and come to the city and eat some tapas, drink some wine, let the children play, we dance…”

Pffft! What kind of a life is this? They are missing out on the wearing of onesies and the watching of Eastenders while the kids play the X Station in the back room and Granny does her crochet in an old folks home.

Speaking of crochet, let’s cut to the chase. Yeah, it’s lush in Spain. We’ve been swimming in these coves (most of them seem to have NUDISTA signs all over them, who knows what that means) and climbing these old beautiful towers in these majestic basilicas, and eating insane paella, but, BUT the other day we bumped into a FLEA MARKET WOOHOOOOOOO! There we were bustling around Denia trying to find the fish market when, HANG THE HECK ON, what is this? Piles of junk? Stall after stall of dusty old crap? I must have actually died and gone to heaven.

I know that I had a bit of an out of body experience as I came across six tables, each groaning under the weight of mountains of knitted blankets, embroidered table cloths and vintage pinnafores. Something happened because when I came to, 5 Euros lighter, clutching a mound of flea ridden beauty to my chest Tim and the girls were no where to be seen.

I got flashbacks. Tim’s voice. “Going on…. Fish market…Meet you… At the… In about…”

Uh.

I was lost. In a massive flea market. With no clue what we had arranged and with no way of contacting Tim or being contacted. Completely alone.

It was perfect.

He found me, of course, a bit later, knee high in a box of rusty Spanish doorknobs, a crazed look on my face; the unique, agonised expression of someone surrounded by super cheap cool old Spanish crap but with no home to put it in.

I try, however – look at Betty’s latest makeover:

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Cushion- €1
Blanket- €1
Rug- Oh, that animal hide? We found that on the street in Germany
Hey, what are those things on the side board?!

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Ah, well, this dude is an actual nut cracking nut cracker… €10

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And these are just some old Spanish vintage tins, y’know? €3

20131110-175424.jpgMe and My Shadow– celebrating all things second hand!

Family Travel

When plans go awry

24 October, 2013

Before we left England for our trip around Europe, whenever people heard what we were about to do they’d say “Blimey, your brave!” It was a unanimous response, something about chucking all your cards in the air and tripping about with two under threes in a Campervan gave people the heeby jeebies. We didn’t really feel very bold, we just felt it was do-able. We were confident we’d all love it and that everything would pretty much work out.

Well.

I’m beginning to understand this reaction now. Because you know…. Sometimes things go wrong. Plans go awry (pronounced Ah-RY rather than OR-Ree if you were, ah, um, wondering. Just because a friend got to 29 thinking it was OR-Ree. So I just thought I’d mention it, just in case.)

And then you keep tweaking, and adapting, and changing and still things keep going wrong.

GAH!

You may remember that our lovely Betty the Campervan broke down in Italy. The mechanic wanted ALOT of money to fix the clutch, which wasn’t even the source of the breakdown, so we opted to get the AA to recover it back to London where our own VW mechanic could repair her. This would be covered in our AA deal, as well as some money to carry on our holiday and get home. So we rented a car and bought a tent and camped around Croatia. It was flipping EPIC.

Meanwhile we booked a ferry from UK to Spain for the 8th October and looked on the bright side, at least we could now do Spain with the fixed up Betty.

However, when we returned to London to pick her up, we discovered that Betty hadn’t made it back. In fact, she was still in Italy- we were meant to be getting the ferry in two days!!!

We reluctantly changed the ferry date. Hung around London a bit. A week later we heard that the van was STILL in Italy! We postponed the ferry yet again. Hung around some more.

This was ridiculous. We were losing faith in the AA’s ability to get the van back. The “14 days maximum” getting back to London had doubled and we were no closer to Spain. We decided to do a DIY mission. The AA gave us the money to get the van back ourselves and we called up our friend Patrick, who runs the Forest School, in Germany, who had offered to help out. (What an AWESOME dude.)

We would stay in London while Tim goes out to Germany, drives to Italy, brings van back to Germany for repairs, drives home. We thought it’d take 5 days.

So far it’s been ten.

Oh, the plans of mice and hu-men’ *mutter sexists phrases mutter*

The flight was cancelled, the journey from Germany to Italy took an unexpected 18 hours, the mechanic was sick. Things just kind of stopped working out well.

Last night I changed the ferry for the millionth time (the boat folks must think I am absolutely off my rocker) from tomorrow to Sunday but as of just now we’re unsure if we’ll even make that.

Tonight Tim went to get the camper; he had his bags packed, a picnic ready, all prepared to pick Betty up and begin the drive home. Oh. The mechanic wasn’t there. Fortunately, someone else was and gave Tim and Patrick his home address. Sweet, a misunderstanding? They drove to his home and discovered the mechanic in bed. Refusing to come down. Swearing at his mum. Saying he was going on holiday tomorrow.

The subsequent text from Tim said “You. Are. Not. Going. To. Believe. This”

As I read the following texts about a cracker jacks mechanic my stomach curled up as if to hide from the angry old heart beating its way out of my chest.

It just seems a bit unfair. For this Trip of a Lifetime to be stalled for so many weeks. A bit like, yeah, I realise having had such a cool time already it was about time we had some rubbish luck, but THAT’S ENOUGH THANKS. If bad luck came in threes Tim would have been back on Monday. It feels like it comes in gazillions. *Mutter sweary mutter*

Then I look at Juno Bear enjoying a crumpet (yep, she be EATING!) and remember Ramona wandering around prestigious museums in her pyjamas yesterday and I GET SOME PERSPECTIVE.

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We are all healthy and don’t have to go to work in the mines and will get to Spain eventually, si, si. (Do you have any suggestions for Spain? We arrive in Bilbao (probably next July, the way things are going) and are thinking of driving straight through the middle to the very bottom and then going West…. Or East. Let me know if you have any ideas for of cool projects or families or anything to visit.)

So. Send tea, cake and courage as I’m getting a little of the heeby jeebies….

Family Travel, Thrifty

Flea Markets in Secondhand Split

7 October, 2013

Ah, yeah. I know what you’re thinking- I needed to find the Flea Market in Split, Croatia, like I needed a punch in the face. We’ve sold a house full of stuff, pared down to just a few belongings for our travels round Europe, why WHY would I need to go thrifting in Croatia?

Welllll… My shoes really broke for the final time after much DIY repairing so I popped them in the bin and was one pair down. Also, we are flying back to England on Tuesday and have to somehow cart all our gear onto the plane… so we are keeping our eyes peeled for a suitcase or massive bag or two… But, really, honestly? I just love rummaging through people’s old stuff.

Especially if there’s a chance it could be retro communisty Iron Curtain style old stuff.

The Green Markets in Split sprawl out from the harbour up to the edge of the Old Town. On a Sunday they are packed with mountains of fruit and veggies and, tucked at the back, as you walk away from the harbour, was a vision of beauty to my eyeballs- a small but perfectly haphazard array of stalls selling old stuff. The ideal mixture – plastic tat, vintage fabrics, clothing, records, filthy things piled in boxes: YES, YES, YES!

We arrived at 11am and it was in full flow, but over by the time we passed again at 1pm. We had a quick mosey but I didn’t torture myself by searching too hard through all the things I couldn’t take back with me. I did score this SWEET pair of treads though, for about £1.20. Are these what you call brothel creepers? I’m sorry to womankind if so… But aren’t they The Business? I promise to be extra feminist whilst wearing them.Flea Market Split

(Communists don’t worry about matching laces.)

We then wandered through the old town and unexpectedly began to love Split. There are some astonishing Roman structures, the magnificence of which rivalling Dubrovnik, but with a massive dose of proper, gritty, city living. 20131007-080135.jpg
Ramona having a snooze on Tim’s back as we bask in the antiquity.

We then, outside the overawing Golden Gate, came across another glorious sight- another market of old stuff! Wheee! Sound the Trumpet of Joy! It was a bit more official, and featured almost solely antique stuff but for fairly good prices and still with the delight of rummaging through boxes and bowls.Flea Markets in Split

Walking past this rocking horse realising it would never be mine was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life (possibly rivalled by child birth.)

Secondhand Split, I found you, you stealthy beast, and I loved you.

Linking up for the first time in YONKS with all the secondhand loving beauties over at Me and My Shadow.

Family Travel

Croatia’s Islands and Coastline: Camping, Calamari and Compulsive Swimming

4 October, 2013

We came to Croatia primarily because someone told me once that National Geographic had voted it the “most beautiful country in the world” – oh yeah, I thought… You sure? Because I have seen quite a few beaut things in my life, and like, who are YOU, some kind of AUTHORITY on countries and landscapes and geography and that?

Within the first hour of crossing the border from Slovenia we were muttering at the mountains and coastline “Wow. Yep, it is alright this place.” After our first full day we were hyperventilating with all the stunning scenes making our lungs compress and eyeballs water. A week in and we were saying to each other “That National Geographic most beautiful country in the world thing? Hello, UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE YEAR.”

Turns out those kids (actually I imagine them to be Teva-toting bespectacled old fellas) Know Stuff.

Our 25 days camping through Croatia are very nearly up. We weren’t sure how we were going to cope, spending all that time with a toddler and a baby in a tent, but we are so SO glad we pushed through after the catastrophe that hit Betty the Campervan in Italy. The weather has been kind, we have had sunshine, and therefore swum, everyday apart from 2. At least once a day we are gobsmacked by the outrageous postcard perfection of the coves and bays and marinas and the way the oceans just pull you in.

I was on holiday with my folks in New Zealand many years ago when we came across the most breathtaking little waterfall with a plunge pool. We scrambled down to it, like children rushing upon the Turkish Delights in the Snow Queen’s palm. We stepped in to it, up to our ankles. My mum though, she kept stepping. She stepped in up to her knees… her waist… then she dived in, every bit of clothing on including her precious watch. It says a lot about my free-spirited, frolicsome mum. But also about the water. Some rivers, lakes and seas poke a Swimming Button, they unleash an overwhelming urge to jump right on in. Here in Croatia, this water is EVERYWHERE YOU LAY YOUR PEEPERS.

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After visiting the National Parks, Plitvice and Krka, we headed down to Split and jumped on a ferry to the Island Korcula. We resisted the swim compulsion at the port – too chilly at 8 am- resisted it on the beautiful ferry trip – too fatal- and resisted as we drove along the Island shore in search of a campsite – too anxious as campground upon campground seemed to be non-existant or closed. We finally found a little camp in a place called Prizba but the man showed me the sign he was about to erect “CLOSED UNTIL JUNE 2014” Nooooooo! But, pity upon us he took, we built the tent under the olive groves and DASHED down to the sea to finally yield to the tug of clear-as-glass turquoise waters.

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The beach at Prizba is sheltered from any wind, and looks out towards a couple of tiny Islands. There is the funnest slide into the harbour, just a couple of bays along from where we camped. And within half an hours drive there are hidden coves with rocks to clamber, each one clamouring for position as Most Beautiful Beach In Most Beautiful country in the world. (Pupnatska Luka and Bacva were our favourites although the latter at the end of a pretty treachourous windy trail! Vucine on the Peljesac Peninsula then popped along and blew even these two out of the water.)

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Most evenings we’d wander down to the tiny marina and chuck in the lures and line we had foraged from the bottom of the sea, joining the local nuns (honest truth- nuns in full habits- with a daily fishing habit, hoo hoo tee hee) in a dusk calamari search. Apparently they were there, and indeed one morning Ramona came running back from a walk with Tim absolutely bursting with a story about the octopus they spotted in the sea! They had shown a local Grandad who came over! And caught it right there in front of them! And then it got free and tried to use its legs to creep back in the water! But the old man got it back! And octopuses change colour on the rocks so noone can see them! It was pink! Then it was brown! As you can imagine Tim was gutted he didn’t catch the bugger. I was, throughout the telling of this adventure, trying my utmost not to boff. Ugh. Octopuses.

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We felt like we had finally found the swimming idyll that we had secretly been hunting for throughout this whole trip. No wonder we stayed there for a week and then moved to the Peljesac Peninsula for a further 4 days.The campsite owner didn’t think much of my Squatters Rights stance. (Jokes.) We left with resigned reluctance, a bank of memories and a small flock of fleas courtesy of the mangy cats who were part of the Mangy Cat Sanctuary he ran alongside the camp that would rampage through our tent each time we turned our backs.

But back to all this beauticiousness. From almost every point on Croatia’s Islands and Coast you can see other islands; hundreds and thousands of them. Round like blobs of paint dripped perfectly into the sea; scattered like a giant kid blew the candles out on his birthday cake spitting billions of soggy crumbs of crisps everywhere…

Or like “God’s tears” as someone more, er, elegantly put it…

After the peninsula we trucked into Dubrovnik for the day, which hands down must be one of the coolest old cities ever (yeah, in fact UNESCO gave it that award a few decades back, turns out.) An ancient town of beautiful architecture, ruins and cathedrals, inside walls you can walk on (we spent a happy 3 hours doing it!) inside another layer or rocks protecting it from the clean, deep ocean- rocks you can bomb off into, yep, water that just compels you in.

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We had heard terrible things about the crowds; cruise ships that bustle up and take over the town but we must have been there in off season as it felt calm and peaceful and free from those pesky tourists. *cheeky smile*

We are now staying in Campsite Serina outside of a little town called Omis, south of Split. It is on a little peninsula, with lots of little coves for swimming straight into the ocean. It must be one of the best campsites ever, with an acoustic folk duo playing on camp each night and the host family welcoming everyone like kindred souls. But, we probably need to leave soon so we can actually get some sleep- the extreme, noisy winds make it feel like there is a giant trying to blow his birthday candles out all over our tent…

PS Come over to Instagram and check out more of our snaps, I’m @lulasticblog