Gratuitous cat pictures

Maria and I often discuss how the cats are more popular than we are… and there aren’t nearly enough cute pictures of cats on the web ūüėČ we are also feeling very lucky since our recent experience of almost losing Clyde just before his seventh birthday and are very grateful for the help and support we received via Facebook from people who don’t know us.

So firstly some pics of the cats when they were young…

The first four years of their lives were in West Bergholt where they were very comfortable.

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Of course their first experience of boating was on the original Mariadz, the Dufour 455.

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Then we bought the Moody a new playground for the cats.

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Before selling the house and getting a motorhome and travelling around..

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but the cats do like skiing….

 

 

Returning from Italy and a lost cat

Despite the fact that Maria has worked for most of it, we have still had a great holiday with a couple of visits to the Lido, meeting new friends and some great food.¬† There were a few really good friends that we didn’t get to catch up with as well as a few where we didn’t get as much time as we’d like, but Maria fell in love with Italy all over again so that has to be a good holiday.

After ten days though, it is time to think about packing up the cats and the van to start the journey home.¬† We always allow extra time for the return so that we can spend some time in France in a few areas that we have come to “enjoy”: Champagne, Chablis and Beaujolais.¬† They are very pretty areas and there may be certain other benefits associated with driving to these places and then resting up for the night.

But that is all later and this year we rented a car from Firefly in Brindisi, the first car was awful and the replacement was little better being an automatic Fiat Panda with porn-star red leather interior and a blowing exhaust!  We felt right at home in it.  Or not.  Anyway the first job of the return journey is to take the car back to the airport.  The direct route from the house to the airport takes about 30 minutes but includes some tight roads in San Vito di Normanni or San Michele Salentino, so generally we go the longer way via Francavilla where the roads are easier, but this adds thirty minutes to the journey time.  With a slightly later departure than usual, thank you cats for giving us the runaround, we have lost an hour very early in the day.

The other feature of our trips back to the UK is we generally hammer through Italy as quickly as we can, so a long day of driving on the first day.  We will have ample time to explore Italy when we live there and it is nicer to feel closer to home.  This also gives us shorter drive and more rest time in France.

It’s a long, picturesque run up the Adriatic coast and the views seem even better driving North than when you come South.¬† There are no major holdups and we make good progress towards Northern Italy.¬† As you near the end of the Autostrada Adriatica, there is some funky architecture with a futuristic train station and three pretty bridges.¬† You know you are making good progress when you see these, whichever way you are going!

We drive past Milan with its slightly heavier traffic but it isn’t too bad this time and we are onto the Turin road.¬† It has all been motorway driving so far and so Suicide Sam the SatNav has not had the opportunity to play any tricks on us.¬† So far! However, he had obviously been thinking this through and his next trick was especially cunning.¬† In Italy you have the autostrada, which are the toll roads, the SS roads which are generally dual carriageway, then the SP roads which seem to be roughly equivalent to A, sometimes B, roads.¬† So it is without fear, as we come off the autostrada with 30 minutes left to go, that I follow Sam’s advice and take the SP97 to Volpedo, our overnight stop.¬† There is a new junction and the road looks really nice………. for about fifty yards…… before it becomes a single track road.¬† We have had this before and have sometimes been lucky to negotiate the whole road without meeting anything else but not today.¬† Sam has got us really well this time as every man and his dog in their large vehicle is coming the other way.¬† The sides of the road are soft and I am concerned that I am going to get stuck. In this part of Italy the drivers also don’t seem to want to move over and I seem to be more in the field than not most of the time.¬† We do pass through some nice villages, one particular commune looked like an old fort with high stone walls and a huge church, somewhat surprising for a small village.¬† We eventually arrive in Volpedo to be greeted by large public bins on every corner.¬† This may not be something that most people would notice but in the South, where not all homes get a bin collection, there are very few areas for people to dispose of their rubbish.¬† You need to know where the bins are.¬† Alternatively, there is a truck that waits for 2hr 50 mins, should be three hours but he always leaves early, in the middle of a disused industrial estate with no signs.¬† Unfortunately, this means that fly tipping is prevalent in the South which detracts from the beauty.¬† However, Volpedo, City of Bins, is amazing and looks clean.¬† There must be more bins than people!¬† If only we could take some down South ūüôā

We find the motorhome stop in Volpedo down by the football pitches 6241720720_IMG_3546and a little out of town.  There are no other vans there and we did have to take a second look before agreeing that this was the right place! A perfect spot for the cats.  There are also good facilities with a waste disposal area, no surprise there, but this also has power at the back which with our very long extension lead, we are able to reach!

However, the football pitch, which we park up behind, is being watered and the watering system goes a bit further than the pitch.  This will mean we will likely get wet within the next hour as the system gets pulled along the pitch adjacent to where we are.  So despite the heat we will have the windows closed at the back of the van.  Before the water gets to the van, we are sat outside enjoying the traditional post journey can of beer, while Maria is being eaten alive by mossies.  The 6241720720_IMG_3556cats are off exploring but always within 50 metres of the van.  Actually after the van has had its wash, the mossie problem is reduced although not so much that we eat outside!

The next day we are up early since we have about six hours of driving to get to Beaujolais where we are returning to a vineyard that we enjoyed last year.

We drive out from Bin City the way we came and Sam tries to direct me via SP97 again….I don’t think so!¬† Sam is unperturbed and suggests the next left….which is a dirt track with grass growing in the middle.¬† Absolutely no chance, not least of all since the Italian sign posts are all suggesting that the way I want to go is straight ahead on this nice wide well tarmacked road!¬† Eventually, Sam relents and agrees with the Italians.

Normally on our drives, we are waving, singing songs and being silly but Maria is working so there is no music and just the sound of tapping and Maria on work calls :(.  But at least I can look at the nice landscapes and pretty stone towns!

Our route to Beaujolais is via the 6174666736_IMG_3582Frejus tunnel which is a route we have taken before, eye-wateringly expensive but quick. As we drive towards Turin, we can see the Alps in the distance and this always puts a smile on my face.¬† On this route into the alps you meander through a deep valley which has a large fort protecting the pass.¬† You can imagine how this would have been years ago if you didn’t have permission to go through the pass!¬† The tunnel is also well controlled, despite two way traffic in a single tunnel, there is a lower speed limit and a requirement for a 100M gap between each vehicle, obviously not a gap that is uniformly observed but at least it shows willing.

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Maria is due to be working all day, and has her project board meeting in the afternoon so it is important that we arrive before 3pm European time so that she can be settled.¬† We are making reasonable progress but roadworks and the tunnel are taking their toll, please pardon the pun, and our arrival time is creeping ever closer to 3pm….and then beyond it!¬† Maria has to start her call as I am on final approach to the vineyard.¬† It should be ok because the first few minutes of these calls is normally, “is fred/sally/sam on the line?”, “can you hear me?”, “I am going on mute”, “sorry, i was talking but i was on mute so you couldn’t here me”, “yes I am here”, “can everyone go on mute who isn’t talking”.¬† That easily takes up ten minutes! We arrive at the crossroads above the vineyard and Sam tells me to make the impossible turn towards the vineyard. But I have been here before and I know there is a back way round to another junction that is tight but possible.¬† At this moment, I hear Maria say, “right I will get us started with an update on the project……”, and then a stream of expletives as the line drops!¬† There is nothing that I can do except get us to our destination where the reception is better.¬† She is soon back on the call but the meeting has moved on, they will come back to her update.¬† I’m in trouble.

Once again we arrive and there is no-one else around so we are able to take our favourite spot at the bottom of the vines.  6174666736_IMG_3573This is away from the power and water but is also very secluded with just one house opposite and fields all around.  The clouds are dark and menacing but seem to pass us by without emptying themselves onto us and the evening cheers up.  So does Maria when her board finishes early and without too much drama.  The son who runs the vineyard was on his honeymoon last year when we visited but he pops down to ask us if we would like to do some wine tasting. we agree that we will come up in about an hour after Maria has finished up.6174666736_IMG_3572

We had heard the son’s story last year when we visited. Apparently, he was working in the fields with the temporary staff who help with the harvest when he was hit by a (Polish) thunderbolt.¬† They were married last year and this year we discover that they now have a child.¬† It means that he now speaks French (obviously), Polish and English which provides an interesting basis for our communication as we try any language we can to get our point across!¬† I was also able to explore the full range of my Polish by saying good day, thank you and cheers… a proud day indeed!

We find these vineyards using the France Passion book, which provides a list of vineyards, farms etc that offer overnight stays for motorhomes.¬† Most of these are free although we have noticed that each stay seems to end in us spending money in exchange for wine!¬† One thing we have found by going to these places is that we have met some really friendly people.¬† At Beaujolais, we have a really special place and they are always very generous too, so we have an extra few bottles of wine for dinner and an aperitif!¬† As we settle down for the evening, we discover another cat hiding amongst the vines so our cats are being a bit wary of going anywhere.¬† Maria is starting to relax and only has one more day left of work before she can get some rest for the remainder of the return journey. Onto dinner with tonight’s dinner being a BBQ, with some lovely curly sausage and various meats as well as salads etc.¬† Unfortunately, most of the sausage ends up on the floor after an horrendous meat lifting accident but what we had was nice!¬† A few drinks as the sun goes down and all is relaxed.

The next morning the cats are off exploring. Last year Bonnie had gone into the gardens opposite our parking and we had spoken to a very nice ex-school teacher, who taught English.  She remembered us, fondly we hope, as we tried to retrieve Clyde from her garden this year.  We were able to spend some time chatting even if not much of it was in French.

Soon we are ready for an even shorter drive to Chablis.  We have decided to take the back roads and avoid the tolls.  The first couple of hours of the drive to Chablis are uneventful, we are going down lots of country roads, some are so straight that they must have been Roman in origin.  Sam then points out that there is a way to get to our destination in 90 minutes less time than currently expected, before putting me on one of the toll roads that I had specifically requested we avoid! We decide to continue on this route and get to Chablis earlier so we can relax.6174637856_IMG_3626

We arrive at the vineyard and meet Vincent Michelet again and he remembers us.  Two crazy cat people in an English motorhome, what a memory he must have! We go to the cave, where we can do the tasting and Vincent brings us examples of each of his wines.  We try some very nice Petit Chablis, Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru. As always the wines are gorgeous and choosing between them is difficult.  We select a few bottles and then Vincent offers us the remains of the bottle of premier cru with the engraved glasses we 6174666736_IMG_3591were drinking from to have with our meal.  Maria remembered that there is a large vegetable patch where we stay and Vincent also suggests that she can pick anything she likes from there.  Maria dives in with enthusiasm but even after picking a fair bit, the family continue to come over and offer us additional items from the vegetable patch. Soon enough our free haul almost matches what we have bought!

Last year, we discovered that the cats had no respect for mosquito nets in the van.¬† They found it quite easy to barge through these and jump out of the van, in the middle of the night, while we slept.¬† We would only discover this when Bonnie cried at the door to come back in because unfortunately it isn’t as easy to get back in as it was to get out.¬† So this year, we have been using the sun blinds, which appear to be cat proof, to stop the little tikes escaping.¬† So far this year, we have been successful in keeping animals in the van overnight when we have used this technique.¬† However, Clyde used to enjoy a little game we played a few years ago called “Where’s Clydie” where he would try to hide himself in undergrowth for me to take a picture for our friends on facebook to find him!¬† It gave us all some amusement for a few weeks.¬† He clearly enjoyed that game so much that he decided he wanted to play it again.

In true stealth mode, during the night, it appears that he has put his weight on the sun blind covering one of the windows so that it lowers a bit and leaves enough mosquito net for him to jump through.¬† We assume it is him but, to be fair, Bonnie also did a runner at the same time!¬† We become aware of this at about 4:30am, when we hear the familiar gentle cry of Bonnie…outside.¬† She comes running in when I open the door and immediately jumps on the bed to defuse any anger and to demonstrate how much she loves us!¬† Clyde doesn’t come in but he is probably just sat under the van so I leave the door open and slide the non-cat proof mosquito net across the door, he’ll come in when he is ready.¬† We decide to stay in bed and doze for a few more hours, it hadn’t been an early night and we don’t want to get up early.¬† We don’t have that long a drive to our last stop in Boulogne so we won’t rush.¬† We don’t get up until about 9:30am, Clyde has not come in yet.¬† I go outside and he is not under the van. That’s unusual but he won’t be far so I call out for him. An hour later and we still have no sign of Clyde.¬† We have found with both cats that they won’t wander far, they always come back when called and actually they will always come back regularly to see us anyway.¬† So this is very unusual behaviour.¬† Maria and I are starting to get a bit worried, so I do a quick circuit of the area (which is mostly grass, vines and some woods).¬† I am calling his name quite loud and I’m sure he will hear it and come back.¬† Another hour and we still have nothing.¬† While I am away, Maria breaks her self-imposed exile from Facebook to put out a message, hoping that it will get to people in France who may be able to help.¬† The response is overwhelming with a number of people upset that he has gone and offering support and help.¬† The messages are being shared so that they can be seen by as many people as possible.¬† Maria has also changed the Eurotunnel booking to the end of Sunday and we recognise that we will no longer be going to Boulogne or the Auchan with their wonderful duck :(.

The search is continuing and I since Vincent is not around, I ask one of the workers if he can check that Clyde hasn’t got himself locked into their buildings (although I have checked most of them myself already!).¬† Still nothing.¬† Maria and I are now both circling the area in wider and wider circles calling for Clyde, Bonnie is also joining in, running around and calling (just not too loud!).¬† I am also stopping people that I see and explaining: “cherchez le chat blanc”, “le chien”, “non, chat”, followed by a gallic shrug and a promise to keep a look out for him.¬† By the end of the day, I will have done 36,000 steps, shouted myself hoarse and covered a distance of 16 miles looking for the cat, Maria has also walked miles – and did I mention that it was sunny and hot at 30 degrees, with no sun cream!¬† We are now deep into the afternoon and there is still no sign of the cat.¬† Vincent returns and asks us if everything is ok.¬† He then spends the next two hours walking around the neighbours with an increasingly pink Adam and a rapidly browning Maria.¬† We have spoken to everyone in the area and there is still no sign of Clyde.

By this stage, we are starting to resign ourselves to the notion that we have seen the last of Clyde. He could have been picked up by someone, but there are hardly any cars at 8am on a Saturday morning here, that is why we picked this spot.  He could have been attacked by a fox.  I have already checked every roadside ditch for half a mile around our position in case he had been hit by a car.  It seems the last thing we can do is to put up some posters around the village of Lignorelle and hope that someone sees him, phones Vincent and then we can work out how to get him back. Vincent takes me to his office and we put together a lost cat poster.  20170729_194446These are printed off and I go to put them up at strategic places around the village.  even at this stage, the friendly villagers are trying to help. Pointing me at a place where a lady who loves cats lives in case he had gone there or taking a photo of the poster to put on Instagram. It was really heartwarming to have so many people helping and caring, at the end of the day he is only a cat, but our pets are important to us.

 

 

 

I return having put the posters up and Maria has had another visit from Vincent with some more wine and more vegetables.  Vincent also says that he is phoning the owner of the warehouse nearest to us in case they were working the previous night and Clyde snuck in.  Maria has prepared a pasta dish which is excellent but we are not really in the mood.  Anyway, we go to bed with heavy hearts, leave the door open with the mosquito net across and go to sleep hearing Bonnie outside constantly crying out for her brother.

We are awoken at 2am by a cat clawing at the mat in 20170807_163316front of the water bowl, this is a Clyde habit.¬† I switch the light on to find Clyde idly drinking from his water, looking at me as if he is saying “what?”.¬† I grab the little beggar and he gets a huge cuddle from his cat-mum.¬† He is not only uninjured but has no grass or seed pods in his fur. Since he gets these when he looks at a field, where has he been!¬† He has been away for almost exactly 24 hours.¬† The funny thing is that after all her pining for him, now he has returned Bonnie blanks Clyde.¬† She is almost stood there arms crossed with a rolling pin in hand saying “what time do you call this”.

We quickly provide updates on facebook and our friends that had been in touch and again the responses were amazing.¬† We had complete strangers that said they couldn’t sleep or had woken and their first thought was the location of the cat!¬† When I go outside, the warehouse lights are on, somewhat unusual at 3am.

Next morning, I am up at 7am when I had expected to resume the search but I have to go back into town and retrieve the posters I had put up the night before.  As I start the stroll down to the village there are a few rain drops but it is going to take a little more than that to dampen my spirits! Rule number one, never dare the rain gods! Within ten minutes it is hammering down and I am walking back to the van drenched clutching my set of posters but still happy! As I collect the last one, I see Vincent and I am able to tell him that we found the cat.  He mentions that he has left a couple of croissants outside of the van for us, cue a quick call to Maria to retrieve these before they get too damp!

 

It now seems a shame that we have changed our return trip but as we both said, it was going to be very difficult to drive away from the vineyard without Clyde.¬† Thankfully we didn’t have to try and do that.¬† Of course he is now 6174606016_IMG_3624asleep in the van without a care in the world and with no idea of the stress he has caused Maria, I and Bonnie, not to mention the hundreds of people on Facebook who were willing him to return!

We depart late morning on Sunday for the trip back to England.¬† Sam is given strict instructions not to take us via the Champs Elysee again and we head off to skirt Paris to the east and head back.¬† Although the Auchan at Boulogne is closed on Sundays, there may be an alternative on our route back.¬† Maria finds one that is close to Eurodisney. and we programme that in.¬† So we did get to buy our cheap Duck breast (3 large for ‚ā¨12) ūüôā

We arrive at the Eurotunnel early to find more delays.¬† It seems unbelievable that on every journey through the tunnel, we are delayed by at least an hour.¬† It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is Christmas, inside or outside of school holidays, we are always delayed. At least this time, they are not punishing the owners of high vehicles by making their delays even worse! We get on the train and are greeted by Katie the conductor, who had spoken to us on the trip out before being abused by a German motorhome owner who’s ticketing hadn’t been processed correctly. We are able to get the gossip on what happened after we left on the trip out, and after we had seen him get out and demand to speak to a manager because he wanted her sacked.¬† We had already offered our details to explain what we had seen which was a member of staff being abused by someone clearly frustrated at another long delay.¬† Anyway, Katie seemed fine and was pleased to see us and the cats.

Through the tunnel, off the train and it is two hours home to Ipswich which at 8:30pm on a Sunday night is pretty uneventful.¬† Unfortunately, I have also been told that the boat is not ready to go into the water and so we will be staying in the motorhome and won’t be able to get onto Mariadz until Wednesday but that is another story.

 

 

 

Favourite blogs

Well the blog has been in place now for a couple of years and we have also added blogs from previously that describe the journey we have been going through.

wedding closeIn that time, a lot has happened and I thought it may be worth pointing out some of our highlights for those who have caught up with us more recently.

Sometimes the more fun blogs have been those that have described the journeys we have had or the state of the build rather than the more technical ones around the refit of the boat, so here goes…..

Our first (aborted) trip across the channel was in company IMG_1100with Richard and Janet on Easily Led. It did prove to us that what we had in mind was not going to be all plain sailing even in benign conditions. Very Easily Led

Later that season, we went across the channel to Ostend. Our next trip over to Dunkirk was also eventful. Firstly getting there and working out where to go followed by the first attempt at the trip home.

Dunkirk1

Across the channel to Dunkirk 

Trying to get home from Dunkirk

We have some fun but also are aware of the safety aspects and are always learning lessons. Although I try to be critical, and hopefully amusing, in the blog, I hope it doesn’t come across that we are foolhardy. ¬†We have been trained well and are able to think ourselves out of most situations.

But our (mis) adventures are not just limited to water…. imagewe can have as much fun in the motorhome on a journey to Italy.¬†Road trip to Italy 2016

However, on water is where our home is and our first proper trip out of this year was to North Kent where we had a great time. Our 2017 season starts with a trip to Kent

imageWe are also fortunate to see some amazing sights and the pictures from the Thames barge race were a favourite of mine.Thames barge race weekend

Finally, no list of our favourites is complete without something to do with the house we are building in Puglia.img_5370Build in Puglia ‚Äď Trullo complete

There ya go, a diverse selection of some of our favourite blogs. Maybe some beach reading, or for the commute to work, I hope you enjoy them.

Italy, here we come

The annual pilgrimage to Italy started, this year, from Kent. ¬†So it’s Wednesday and you will recall Maria starts the holiday earlier and earlier each year. Maria finishes her last work call at about 3:30pm and we are on our way to the Eurotunnel which is only ten minutes away since we join the M20 the junction before the tunnel exit. Well, we would but the M20 is closed, not a great start! We spin round the diversion and get to the tunnel where there are an unusually high number of trucks queueing but luckily the car check-in is clear. Not that lucky actually as apparently we are delayed by three hours due to a problem that’s occurred during the morning so rather than getting across even earlier we are badly delayed and won’t get anywhere near as far as we’d hoped on our first evening. In the end the delay is worse than three hours and it is especially frustrating that Eurotunnel had prioritised cars and freight traffic ahead of high vehicles. ¬†It means we don’t get across to France until 10pm local time, so no chance of the three hour drive down to Reims.

IMG_5962The first night then is a return to the aire at Bellicourt, which is meant to take two motorhomes in designated spots.  It is quite popular but very quiet and it means the cats can go out for a while Рand Clyde can catch some mice.

We know the drive quite well, down the Autoroute des Anglais (A26). ¬†You get to Arras, which at night seems to be straddled by Martian tripods from War of the Worlds but we are able to get past the flashing red eyes without being spotted….in the morning you can see these are wind turbines but in the gloom it doesn’t look right at all ūüôā

We are very lucky in the motorhome with the cats since they have their standard positions for travelling: IMG_7597Bonnie likes to sit in a gap above the drivers head and sleep, for the entire journey! 20170710_200302Clyde on the other hand likes to lie on his Mummy’s lap which causes Maria quite a lot of pain because he is not light, but he is gorgeous, so how can she say no. They stay like this for most of the drive down through France.

By the time we arrive at Bellicourt it is close to midnight and there are four vans there already.  We find a suitable place to park for the night but we will have to leave early in the morning before the cars start arriving. We let the cats out for a little, while we have a drink after a bad few hours. We decide we will need to try and catch up some time so another reason it will IMG_5963be an early start.  The intention is still to make it to the Italian lakes for the next night where we have identified a couple of really nice places we can stay.  The cats are having fun and wandering around outside.  This is something that surprises a lot of our friends.  We have heard on several occasions whether we are scared of losing the cats.  The cats have always been very good at returning when we call them and will jump into the motorhome on command. Maria is less worried than I am, but they have always come back to us at every stop we have made, so I guess she is right to have confidence in them.  But more of THAT a little later!

After a post drive drink the night before and getting to bed at 2am after chasing the cats around, a 7am alarm call is not nice but we know it will help us make up for the delays on the previous day and put us back on track. ¬†We are going to have a long day in the van and so Maria is keen that the cats get some fresh air before we leave. ¬†Unfortunately, Bonnie is in a funny mood and wants to run around and play. This isn’t helping us to get away early! It takes us 30 minutes to get her in, such good cats ūüėČ ! ¬†We get away at 7:45am and drive parallel to the autoroute until St Quentin where we can rejoin. ¬†The other advantage of doing this is that we get an opportunity to fill up with cheap Auchan fuel rather than paying a lot extra on the autoroute. So a nice stop, cats get fresh air and we can refuel on the cheap – result.

Unfortunately, this week Maria has to work because her projects are at a critical time so she spends a lot of time on the journey working. ¬†This is a break with tradition since normally Maria spends most of her time sleeping ūüôā ¬†That’s not completely true in this part of France, Maria has been bird spotting! On the sides of the road there are a number of fences and Maria has spotted birds of prey sitting on these and has become a bit of a spotter, unfortunately she has no idea what they are – “pretty one with a white chest”, “really nice speckly one” – but it does keep her amused for hours (when not working or dozing).

We also have a standard routine as we approach the tolls. Maria being quite short, like myself, can’t reach the toll machine. So it is window down, stop cat trying to get out of window, unbuckle seatbelt, kneel on the seat and retrieve ticket. Now I’m not one to miss an opportunity so in full, Maria’s routine is window down,¬†stop cat trying to get out of window, unbuckle seatbelt, kneel on the seat, have bottom smacked by me and retrieve ticket. At every toll ūüôā well I have to get my kicks where I can! Maria doesn’t even moan about it and just accepts her fate.

We are making good progress and I believe we have caught up some time with the early start and are probably only 90 minutes behind where we would have been. ¬†That is the time when you know something bad is going to happen. ¬†We approached a queue of traffic……with lots of people out of their cars and wandering around…this is never a good sign. An hour and a half later, we are moving again! Great. I also notice that we had originally intended to go through Switzerland to the lakes and the satnav has decided to route us through Lyon and Milan. I should have thought of this earlier and, of course, I have missed the turn off before I notice but the detour doesn’t cost us much time. We should know not to trust the satnav especially as for a while we have been calling him Suicide Sam because of his tendency to take us down roads that are too tight or with low bridges. It adds a little spice to the directions, there is no blind following of his latest “shortcut” along a country track because it is seven metres shorter than the normal way! It keeps us on our toes. Anyway I digress. The cut back to the Switzerland route is actually a very pleasant trip through French villages to get to Basel but it does take a couple of hours. ¬†According to Sam it hasn’t added much time but our arrival time at the lakes is moving further back. Crossing the Swiss border is easy and we didn’t even have to stop since we paid the motorway fees when we crossed in January ūüôā Maria is working away and so missing all of the fantastic scenery but making good progress in her work.

As we head through Switzerland, all is good until we arrive at the Gotthard¬†Tunnel, a 17km tunnel. Once again we have stationary traffic and people milling about on the road. We are less than a mile from a junction and Sam has had a wonderful idea…. come off and there is another route. Sounds interesting and got to be better than sitting in traffic with the engine off. We take the turn off, but Sam seems confused and tells us to take a wrong turn before changing his mind! We are now heading up the mountain and I suspect that the only way down is the way we have come. ¬†We turn around and Sam is back and telling us to take a turn back onto a road….which is closed, with a barrier. ¬†So we have to continue back onto the other carriageway from where we were queuing, go two miles to the next junction before rejoining the queue half a mile further back than we were originally. Thanks Sam!

The queue does eventually start to move but we have lost another couple of hours and our arrival time is now looking like 9pm. ¬†Maria has looked at alternatives but there is no site nearer that is a sensible option so we continue as planned. We arrive at the camper stop late. This stop is on the banks of Lake Varese, literally. It is at the back of a large car park and next to a large restaurant. It is far from the tranquil spot we were expecting and it seems it may be the time of a fair since the car park and all adjacent roads are rammed with cars. ¬†It is a tricky manoeuvre getting 7.6M of motorhome around this but we get by including negotiating a very tricky part because the campers stop sign pointed you down the wrong road! There is one spot free, out of eight, but this isn’t a place where the cats could roam so we are not staying. We had a backup place which also looked good but took more vans and we were worried that there would be a greater likelihood of dogs. But we’ll give it a go. Maria gives me the coordinates for the location and I programme it in. It’s just eleven minutes away on the other side of the lake. We get there quickly but there is no way there is a camper stop here. After a fruitless search of the locality, I thought it may be worth checking the coordinates…..oops I missed a nine, and Sam had chosen the point closest to the underwater coordinates in the lake that I had given him. I guess I can’t blame him for that. ¬†With the right coordinates we head to the second stop at Penne. This has facilities such as electricity, grey/black waste points and water and all for eight euros. We arrive and whilst not ideal for our purposes, we find a quiet spot and go for it. Down at the bottom at the bank of the lake there is a bar which seems to be filled with a couple of hundred 20 year olds – I sound old! It’s kicking out time and there is a lot of noise – really old. Still Maria and I will be up to about 2am – sound younger now ūüôā Cats are out and we are chilling. Clyde eventually comes in but at 2am Bonnie has decided that she wants to stay under the van watching the world go by. I can’t coax her out or grab her. ¬†Eventually we give up and go to bed but she remains outside even when the storm hits at 4am and we have to frantically close all the windows! At 6am, she has had enough and wakes up Maria by crying at the window. ¬†She comes in bone dry and immediately wants lots of affection, but Daddy is still trying to be angry at her for staying out all night….. like all women, she gets her way in the end or more precisely we compromised and she got what she wanted!

It’s a slow start the next morning after another disturbed and very warm night and we wander down to the lake to take some pictures before making our way at 11am.

Actually we are not very far from Milan and the next leg of our drive is about five or six hours to an old farmhouse in the hills of Abruzzo near Pescara. ¬†We have the standard slow traffic around the major towns but there is something wonderful about travelling on the Autostrada del Sole or the Autostrada Adriatica! Much nicer names than the A1(M) or M25! By this stage we have had some long days, nights with broken sleep and Maria has been working hard so we are all a little tired. 20170715_131746Clyde has had to adjust to sleeping on the floor rather than Mummy’s lap¬†20170715_131727but that was a short reprieve for Maria as Bonnie took the opportunity to get some time with her :).

And sleep, which is what they all do while I drive us down the coast road.

The Adriatica is a lovely road when it hits the coast near Rimini. It stays within a couple of miles of the coast for the whole way down Italy.  In the north the region is quite hilly and you have the sea close by and little villages clinging onto hillsides as you go in and out of tunnels and across bridges.

All the way down the coast you can see the Apennine Mountains to the West and as you go further down the coast the land flattens.  When you see Ostuni, the white city, on the hill to the west surrounded by plains, you know you are close to your destination. That is all for tomorrow though as we drive several hundred miles down the A14, nah still prefer Autostrada Adriatica!

Towards the end of the day, we come off the toll road at Pescara and Maria gets a friendly tap on the rump as she pays the toll. We still have thirty minutes to go and the route starts winding up big hills. Oh dear, we have been here before, it doesn’t end well as we did a three point turn on a mountain pass last year¬†ūüôā

Actually the drive is quite nice with some lovely views over the plains and reasonably wide roads. ¬†That’s until we get to within a few hundred metres from the farmhouse. ¬†At this stage there is a right hand turn and a drop off that is our turning. ¬†Prior to last year I thought running aground was something you did on boats if you weren’t careful, apparently it is also possible in motorhomes as we found out last year, see the link above. This time we’re taking no chances so as I start the descent with Maria walking behind the motorhome making sure the long overhang at the back doesn’t get too close to the road. It’s fine and after a hundred metres or so I let Maria back in the van rather than making her walk the whole way ūüôā We continue carefully down the single track road which reveals the old farmhouse with a five a side football pitch, swimming pool and an outside seating area. ¬†It is amongst hills and is a really pleasant place. ¬†As we arrive, there are a group of people gathered near the door with an Alsatian. One of the ladies, comes running over to us and asks whether we have meat in the camper. Either they are a vegetarian commune or that dog will do anything for meat! We soon realise how important it is to understand the difference between Cane (dog) and Carne (meat)! We clear this up and tell the lady we have two cats and they mention that the dog loves cats….to eat! But they kindly offer to lock him away while we stay. ¬†There are two other vans in the field and the parking area is also adjacent to fields for the cats to explore. ¬†Having settled in and plugged in the power (this place has everything!) we head up to the house to get the low down. ¬†They point out the shower and toilet facilities and refuse payment until the next day when we are due to leave. We are sorry that we won’t be eating with them since we have everything for a barbecue and can imagine how nice the home cooked food would have been.

The cats are off exploring but eventually come back and we all settle down for the night. A hot muggy night.

The next morning, Maria and I wake up to find that the count of cats in the van has dropped to zero. The mosquito netting on one of the front windows has a cat sized gap in it and both cats have scampered off. After some calling, Bonnie comes back and uses her charms to defuse any anger. ¬†Clyde on the other hand is nowhere to be seen. After thirty minutes of calling, he lazily walks back towards the football pitch 6176656528_IMG_3395on the far side but he is in no rush to come home. ¬†After looking longingly at the lovely swimming pool, Maria and I have a “refreshing” shower, for the first time in a couple of days, urghhh! We then go to settle our account and on the return grab both cats so we can get away. ¬†The van is packed up and we are on our way.

Going back down the hill is much the same as going up, with the added spice of ignoring Sam from time to time as he tries to take a couple of side streets. ¬†We also take the opportunity to fill up with fuel before hitting the motorway where it is 15-20% more expensive. We have five hours to get to the house although we will stop at the Auchan at Mesagne to pick up essential supplies before going home. The motorway to Bari is fine and then the toll road runs out and you have one hundred kilometres of coast road down to Brindisi. However, the Bari part of this road is a nightmare. You have some people who want to drive at 80MPH and some at¬†30MPH. When you are in a motorhome with limited acceleration, you need to keep your wits about you. This only lasts a few kilometres and then the traffic thins which makes life easier. ¬†We arrive in Mesagne and are able to get everything we need. ¬†The last 30 minutes of our journey brings a smile to Maria’s face, she loves this area and seeing all of the familiar sites makes her feel at home.

At 6pm, we arrive at the house. ¬†IMG_5969IMG_5970At first the cats didn’t want to leave the van even though it is open, but as we unpack they come out and start playing around and climbing trees. They will settle in quite quickly and go to a standard routine of staying in the air conditioned house during the heat of the day and going out and playing at the beginning and end of the day. We will also find them quite affectionate too since the house isn’t too big and they like to be close or sleeping in their personal areas which used to be our wardrobes! Final shot of the trip down is the sunset in Puglia – a wonderful place and we will enjoy spending most of the next couple of weeks here chilling and catching up with friends.

IMG_5971

Maria needs a holiday

Maria has a sneaky plan that she thinks I don’t get. Each year when we go for our two week summer holiday, she steals an extra day or so. Last year, we left in mid week so that we arrived in Italy for the weekend. ¬†This year, Maria has booked us into a place in Kent so that we are closer to the tunnel – we are leaving on Monday!

i can’t begrudge her this though, since she is working incredibly hard at the moment and the weekend prior to our holiday was working through the night with three hours sleep a night. While I am not working. Not good, not good at all. So Maria needs a break and this will coincide with Mariadz coming out of the water to have some work done that is best achieved without us on board. I had washed the motorhome a few days ago so he looked good for the trip (he is a 4.25T van, he’s a big bruiser, can’t be a girl…..). ¬†In Maria’s absence through work I have everything on board the motorhome and Maria has been able to put everything away ready for our trip.

So the plan is to spend a couple of days in Kent, where Maria can work, prior to getting the Eurotunnel across the channel.  On the first night in Europe we expect to get as far down as Reims, adjacent to Paris but on the route down to Italy.  This year we have decided to go through Switzerland, partly because we bought the annual pass in January when going skiing and also because we found the scenery quite spectacular as you go through the Alps past the Italian lakes. Our second overnight stop may well be Lake Como.  This will give us a long day down to Puglia where we can stay for the two weeks.

Step one is get the cats on board. This isn’t easy. Mariadz is coming out of the water and so I carry both cats to the motorhome. By the time I get back to the boat, Clyde has joined me on the pontoon as Mariadz slips out of the berth. Clyde looks a little lost if I’m honest but next to us is an old wooden boat covered in a tarpaulin, the cat’s playground so to speak.¬† he’ll go in there for a while until we call him.¬† I go around to the lift to watch our pride and joy be carefully put onto the hard where Maria joins me. Unfortunately, Bonnie had decided to walk with Maria most of the way so now neither cat is anywhere near the motorhome. With Mariadz settled, I start to head back since today, of all days, I have to go into London for an agency interview. Maria intercepts me….both cats are down where Mariadz should be looking lost! ¬†We both go to retrieve them and get them into the motorhome, hopefully they will get the idea now, and ten minutes later, Bonnie is asleep in her bunk and Clyde is asleep at his mistresses feet, he really does think he’s a dog! I am late but disappear into London for a couple of hours, while Maria gets the washing done and sorts out the van. ¬†This is despite being really tired and keeping up to date with her work, she is a good girl really!

On my return, we finish getting ready and by 6:30pm we are ready to leave. ¬†20170710_200302Maria is so tired she sleeps most of the way there with her cat also asleep on her knee. You will notice the pillow and cushion setup. ¬†This is because the cats are so happy here that they pad on Maria’s legs. ¬†Without the pillow, Maria’s screams were a little distracting for the driver. ¬†Clyde will stay there for most of the trip down to Italy and whenever he leaves Bonnie jumps in. ¬†So Maria always has feline company on our motorhome trips.

Some people have suggested that for safety, in case of an accident, the cats should be in a cage.  Our view on this is that the cats are trained well enough not to bother the driver so there is no safety issue there.  The problem with a metal or hard cage is that, in the event of an accident, the cat is hitting metal bars at 20 miles an hour which is going to cause massive internal injuries.  At least in the van with the amount of soft furnishings we have around for them, there is a good chance they will land on something that will break the fall like an airbag.  To be fair, rule number one is not to have an accident! IMG_7597

So Clyde has his favourite place and Bonnie has hers too as she likes to sleep in a cubby hole above my head. ¬†She can see us but again spends most of her time relaxing or asleep. ¬†We have noticed that the cats are very affectionate in the van but they know not to go near the driver so I don’t need to worry about them and Maria likes the attention.

Tonight we are driving down to a pub/campsite close to the Eurotunnel called the drumm inn. The satnav says a shade under two hours to get there and Maria gets a good rest on the trip down. We have left reasonably late so we are approaching the Thames crossing after 7:30pm, so we have missed the rush hour and the traffic. On the way I continue our mad waving at other motorhomes especially Autotrails. ¬†It is more difficult on the motorway because, unlike single carriageway, you are not in their normal field of vision so I get no returned waves despite seeing about six motorhomes ūüė¶ Another hour and we are approaching our destination. ¬†We phone in because the kitchen closes at 8:45pm and place our order on the phone. ¬†If I’m honest the menu isn’t that inspiring, with a lot of chips, and a mark of the specials board was that Maria didn’t even bother to tell me what was on it, that is uninspiring! That said, you don’t need to eat in the pub.

Initial view of the location is very good.  The pub is a nice old building with access to a field at the back which is well looked after with power and facilities.  Security is covered by two locked gates with different codes.  The only potential issue is quite a steep access road to the back car park, which has tell-tail scrapes in it. We get in ok but I will need to be careful when we leave. We find a nice spot with a few other motorhomes and caravans around and we have arrived as expected before the kitchen is closed.

Unfortunately, the food isn’t great, which is a shame when you look at the setting – the pub would have a real opportunity to be a popular stop-off for people going for the tunnel, and we have seen these questions on facebook a few times.¬† That said, when I mentioned that my lasagne wasn’t too good, the barman agreed and knocked it off the bill so good customer service, even if the quality in the kitchen can be improved.

So this is our stop-off for a day or so while Maria works before we go on our way to Europe.

 

 

 

and the cats seem happy…..well Clyde has already been ten foot up a tree and then looked a bit sheepish! Bonnie has also had some tree time.

 

 

 

Our second day at the Drumm Inn is quite different. It seems that most people stop off here for one night usually on their way to the Eurotunnel. Our neighbours for our full day, while Maria worked, were two caravaning couples who were going to the sidecar racing. Michelle and Phil Luhr with Hayley and Gary Evans with their beautiful sheepdog Oscar.  Poor Oscar is scared of cats and was generally looking quite warily over to the van as the cats looked back. Oscar had an even harder time in the pub that evening though as a couple of kids decided that they should boss him about. He handled it really well and just wanted to chill! After the previous evening, we were a little apprehensive about the food, but noticed the Mexican menu and had a couple of things off of this. A resounding success, the creamy chicken burrito was gorgeous! All in all we had a lovely evening.

The next morning, Maria has a shower in the ten minute, timed shower but there is only one shower and it takes old one pound coins. We only have one old pound coin but our neighbours come to my rescue with an old coin. Maria is out of the shower and myself and the “two girls” are all going to the shower at the same time, it’s obviously a friendly camp! My wife has often said to me how quick I am….in the shower. ¬†The girls are not disappointed as I am in and out in under three minutes although I am not sure if this is something I should be proud of! ¬†One thing we enjoy about motorhoming, like sailing, is how friendly everyone is and we have a lovely chat with our new neighbours before they continue their journey.

Unfortunately most of the morning, it has been raining and we have all had to stay inside. ¬†Where we are going the weather is looking a lot better…. ūüôā

 

Servicing the windlass

On Mariadz, we have a 40Kg stainless Rocna anchor, that we changed soon after acquiring the Moody, and so we like to go out on anchor a fair bit. Just before we bought the Moody, the windlass failed and the previous owners had to replace it a few weeks before we took possession. IMG_5879¬†To be fair, it was pretty much the only thing that worked as it should when we got the boat ūüôā

However, we shouldn’t get complacent about the windlass especially as that is four years ago now! ¬†Previously I had serviced the Lewmar winches and so I was quite confident about the Lewmar windlass, especially with an electronic copy of the owner’s manual, with servicing requirements, to hand. ¬†One of the jobs we did early on was replacing the anchor chain which is 12mm ISO (as I know now having taken apart the windlass!), with a sparkling stainless chain, eye-wateringly expensive but her ladyship demands. ¬†The old chain had rust which had obviously flaked off as the chain was brought in which meant that the windlass is was covered in rust. ¬†Taking the windlass apart, this was exactly what I saw. ¬†The base of the windlass under the gypsy, that reels in the chain, was covered with rust dust, as was the gypsy itself. ¬†I cleaned up all of the constituent parts of the windlass, much fewer than a winch. ¬†On the gypsy the cleaning uncovered 204 which is Lewmar code for a V4 windlass, hence the 12mm chain! ¬†Once again, I found the parts to be covered in thick grease and, like the winches, I cleaned this off and then reapplied a very thin covering of new Lewmar grease. ¬†Putting it back together is five parts and three bolts, couldn’t be simpler. A quick test and it’s done.

Servicing the windlass is incredibly easy and like the winches rewarding.  When we go travelling we will be anchoring a lot and the windlass will be really useful.

However, you also need to have plans for how to retrieve the anchor if the windlass has failed. ¬†The windlass does have a manual pull with the manual lock (left hand side in the picture) acting like a brake to avoid the anchor dropping again. ¬†I think you also need a solution if the windlass is completely shot. Our solution is to use our long snubber with a hook, taken all the way back to one of the sheet winches. ¬†This will allow us to pull up ten metres of chain at a time using a winch. ¬†We haven’t tested this in real life yet, but the theory seems sound.

What’s that smell???

For some time Maria has been complaining that’s there is a funny smell in the saloon. It’s not there all the time and is sometimes disguised when the air freshener goes off but Maria wanted it traced. I either have to investigate the smell or buy Maria, and any guests, a nose peg!

Our friend, Mark from Motion, was on board and offered to help but little did he know that we would be doing this for hours!

We had already worked out that the smell wasn’t the grey water system and also wasn’t coming from the bilge. ¬†When we lifted the floorboards around the holding tank, IMG_5866the smell was more pronounced. Oh dear, this is going to be nasty. ¬†Inspection around the holding tank showed that there was no leak, that was a relief. We also knew that the holding tank was empty since we had emptied it a few weeks ago. Over the last few years we had changed a lot of the pipes, hence the white pipes in the picture. The creamy coloured pipes are the remaining pipes but these appeared to be fine with no smell coming from them. ¬†We decide to try and trace where any gas is escaping the system by putting a fairy liquid solution across each of the pipes and around the top of the holding tank. ¬†This reveals that the “gas” is escaping from around the sender unit that shows whether the tank is full or not. ¬†It also revealed a small split in the pipe that led to the sea discharge, maybe this was enough to let the smell out? Rather than replacing the new and clean pipe we decided to put in a join and replace the split part with a new short length of pipe. ¬†This was uneventful, having heated the new pipe in a pan of hot water for a couple of minutes to ensure that the 38mm pipe went onto the 40mm fitting on the holding tank…. a snug fit! But we were not convinced that this constituted the full extent of the problem. We then decided to add some water to the tank and discovered that the tank was under pressure when I opened the pump out and heard air hissing. ¬†The setup on the Moody has two inputs from the two toilets, a deck pump out, a sea discharge and finally a breather pipe. With a breather pipe which works both ways, there should not be any pressure. ¬†This led us to do some investigation on the breather pipe to try and understand why there is pressure. ¬†Firstly we wanted to check that the breather pipe in the holding tank didn’t have a long downpipe (I.e. That the breather wasn’t connected to the pump out by mistake. Having checked which pipe was which and removed the tank inspection panel, it was time to hold your breath and open every window on the boat! That is definitely the smell…. but the pipes are the right way round – quick put it all back together again! Consulting the owner’s manual revealed where the breather pipe left the boat and it was interesting to see that this was a smaller pipe than the inch and a half pipe leaving the tank. A reducer somewhere perhaps? It also appeared that there was a join with another breather pipe…very confusing. ¬†The breather pipe goes forward and we can see it doesn’t come back at hull level, so maybe The return is high and is in the headlining? Removing fifteen screws allowed us to check that this wasn’t the case! Great now to put them all back again. ¬†But we are still confused as to how the breather is working. ¬†We decided to force air into the breather using a footpump from the tender. There was a bubbling coming from the sink! The grey water system linked to the black water system for a breather??? Surely we would get foul smells from the sinks. ¬†IMG_5865Tracing back the pipes revealed that the join in the breather pipes was from both grey water boxes and wasn’t linked to the black water breather at all. Back to the manual….and tracing the breather pipe forward behind the TV and up further forward. Check the hull to find a second breather, so the manual is incorrect and the pipe runs further forward. Ps, this breather isn’t the fuel breather which is adjacent to the fuel cap or the fresh water system breathers which are in the cockpit…

So we seem to be checking for a blocked breather. ¬†Using the footpump from within the boat and we are able to push air out but it seems to take a lot of pressure. Filling the holding tank up with fresh water through the pump out resulted in water coming out of the breather. ¬†But we have not been able to force air or wate into the breather from outside the boat. ¬†Our current theory is that there is a flapper valve which stops water getting into the system but since it won’t have been serviced or replaced in fifteen years, then maybe it is stiff, blocked or jammed. ¬†Our investigations continue but for the moment we don’t understand why the breather is not allowing the system to stay equalised.

Teak decks in need of a little TLC

We are big fans of teak decks although recognise that they are not everyone’s cup of tea and can get quite hot in warmer climates. ¬†Some time ago I checked our decks which have worn away and now have 5-7mm of wood left. Apart from normal wear and tear and the slight impact of our occasional two part cleaner (wessex chemicals), this is probably just a sign of an older boat that has fifteen year old teak. One thing I did notice was a large number of exposed screw heads.20170629_102613 Some of these had clearly never been recessed, ¬†and so we wanted to cover these with teak plugs. I had borrowed a drill bit that was 10mm wide with an extended central point that makes the hole in the fibreglass under the teak but I was keen not to drill down too deep and was concerned that I wouldn’t have enough teak to hold the screw and allow me to cover it with a teak plug.

Having found 24 exposed screws, I reviewed each one for depth¬†and available deck thickness. For some I could use a standard 10mm wood drill bit, resink the screw and still have some room for the plug but for the vast majority, I was removing the screw, filling the hole with two part epoxy and then adding the plug. The plugs were about 15mm deep which left a fair bit of plug exposed. ¬†The trick then is to use a very sharp chisel, correct way up (!), to knock the top off the exposed plug and make it level with the deck. Prior to doing this there are concerns around the hard wood and the force that is likely to be required to cut the plug but a gentle tap on the chisel with the palm of the hand is enough to cut the plug. Doing the same from both sides will make sure that the cut is straight and flush with the deck. Twenty-four plugs later and your done, until you walk the deck and find a few more exposed screws that you missed… when finished I went over the plugs and adjacent deck with a light sandpaper and the end result is smooth. ¬†The plugs are brown against the grey deck but this will change over a few weeks and the end result will be a teak deck with no blemishes! I also took advantage to repair a couple fostrips of teak that were breaking and hopefully the extra strength will ensure this damage doesn’t get any worse.

In conclusion, this was one of those jobs that I was a little concerned about but actually is very simple to do and takes little time. ¬†Using the chisel gently and taking your time seemed to get good results. ¬†Interestingly, half way through the process there is a panic about whether the holes are too big or too small but everything falls into place and now we shouldn’t get any water coming through the deck, never mind that it just looks better.