We have now had our Autotrail Tracker RB for two and a half years and I feel we have learnt a lot. We originally spaced the van with water heaters on the waste and cold water tank. We did this because we expected to be taking the van away for ski holidays and we have had two and it has been great. The heaters stop these tanks from freezing which would not be good and could cause quite bit of damage.
In our first few weeks of ownership, we found the small round table that spins out in the lounge area was failing. This is made from a very poor plywood which has several screws into it. Within a few days, these screws were wobbling and within a week the table was broken. We fixed this by using copious superglue in the screw holes. This seems to help bind the ply better and by putting the screws in when it is still tacky, a solid grip is provided for the screw. In the two and a half years since, we have not had an issue with the table, although we had to do the same thing to the bracket that attaches the table foot to the seating. Again this seems to have held up well.
The motorhome also comes with a large table which is designed to fit within the two sofas in the lounge. We selected the optional travel seats in the lounge and so have an L-shaped sofa. It means the legs of the table do not fit in the space without removing seats, very poor design. It does work well outside though! However, on Mariadz we have a teak table that we use either in the cockpit or the aft deck. This fits perfectly and also fits in the storage area at the back of the van. The only thing we need to do is move the locking bar that stops the table coming out when you are travelling or at the very least but something to heavy to block it.
The van comes with hooks on the back of the toilet door. This is always propped open because the shower was is used for the cat litter and they need access to it at all times. But we decide to add some additional hooks behind this door.
When we bought the van, we still had a cello 32in 12v TV in a box and rather than buying a new TV decided to fit this in the bedroom, it is a bit big but means you do get the full cinema experience in the bedroom 🙂 we also often use a bose soundlink to provide the sound since the TV sound is quite poor.
The base of the Autotrail Tracker is a Fiat van. The cab of the original van is sealed from the rest of the van and in order for the doors to shut easily, there are ventilation holes under the passenger seat. In a motorhome, there is a lot more space and so the shutting of the door is not trying to compress the air in a small space, so this ventilation isn’t required. The problem with this ventilation in a motorhome is that it lets in a strong draft of air from the outside which makes the front of the van cold, since there is limited heating to the front of the van. Fortunately, Fiat have the answer, there is a blanking plate (part number 1355707080) you can fit on the outside of the van replacing the ventilation and it stops the draft! You just have to remember to remove the panel that is there and put the blanking plate in the hole rather than treating it as a lid to the existing vent. Bit of personal experience for you there. The alternative and low tech option is to cover the vent with tape to stop the valve opening!
I have also been told that setting the ventilation in the cab to recirculating also has an impact by shutting the vent between the engine bay and the cab. I personally haven’t noticed this improvement but that may be because in the winter we often use an external thermal cover which covers the vents over the engine and we believe this keeps the engine bay warmer. This screen also provides insulation for the windscreen which can be a major loss of heat, although with the sun screens on the inside we find it better. The picture shows this fitted when we are buried in snow.
Finally, we had a problem with the sink in the kitchen where the waste came off the bottom of the sink. This meant that the contents of the sink went into the van. After taking apart the sink, we found that there was no jubilee clip holding the pipe onto the sink. I have put one on to stop the pipe falling off again.
So we have had a fantastic ski holiday. Maria has gone from being a little apprehensive because of her boots to loving every minute. She is now desperate to get back on the slopes.
After our last day of skiing I have had to clear quite a bit of snow from around the van, including an area for us to turn around. There is also a lot of ice under the van but he comes off the pitch with no problems.
We have decided to leave early, you have to leave the camp site before midday or you are locked in and charge an extra day. So it is before 10am and we are coming off the site, The staff are back in their big snow ploughs and are clearing up the six inches of overnight snow and one of the snow ploughs blocks our path – I vaguely remember a similar scene at the start of the Italian Job and that didn’t end too well for the sports car. Today we’re all playing nicely though with the snow plough moving out of the way so that we can leave. The snow chains have been left on the front tyres from when we arrived so we have good grip as we proceed downhill through the tight little roads to get back to the exit. Knowing that the roads are excellent once you get out of the resort we decide to stop early to remove the snow tyres. This isn’t as mad as it sounds because the motorhome is fitted with snow tyres which have been fine until the conditions get a little extreme. As expected the roads are excellent as we head through the villages and back down the mountain to the motorway and being a Friday the traffic is light.
Quite often when we are travelling, Maria is very happy and singing songs and we have the videos to prove it. However, after quite an energetic holiday with a fair bit of apres ski and dancing, Maria is a tired bunny and spends most of start of the journey asleep. Looking around, the cats seem to have suffered the same so I am the only one awake with my music gently playing.
It doesn’t take us long to get out of Austria and of course one of the things we have to do is return the go box (The method for pay paying motorway tolls for vans over 3.5T in Austria). I stop at a petrol station and go to the go box queue to see how much of my €70 of credit I will get back. Last year, when we went to St Anton, i received a few euros but part of that was my fault when we stayed on the motorway after missing our exit. This time however, we get back over €60! Result.
Maria and the cats have woken up but Maria is paying the penalty as she has to sit there with two cats on her lap since they both want their mum. You may wonder why Maria, in the picture, has a large pillow on her lap and a cushion underneath it. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the cats like to spread out and Clyde in particular is a big cat, he needs the pillow to give him enough space. The cushion helps to keep the edge of the pillow up so that he doesn’t fall off the front, definitely something he would do. The pillow also provides protection from Bonnie’s claws. She likes to pad on her mum’s legs and she has claws like needles. Sometimes, Maria forgets the pillow and I am reminded when there are several gentle screams as Bonnie gets herself comfortable. I usually have to stop the van to get the pillow for her because Maria doesn’t stop after a few minutes but just continues to do it.
As well as checking out what is going on in the world, Maria also has the task of identifying where we will stay overnight. We want to be four hours or so from the Eurotunnel which means a reasonably long drive on the first day. We decide to go through Luxembourg which will be another country for the cats to tick off :). Maria finds a really good site adjacent to a fire station with electricity and other facilities. We will be stopping at a reasonable time too. We arrive as it starts to get dark but all five spaces are full. We could find a spot to stay but we don’t want any trouble or to be moved on so we decide to go for another site.
Maria finds another site at Herbeumont. This looks quite good with a mixture of hard standing and grass and it can take 53 vans so at least it won’t be full. It’s a fair distance away and after about 30 minutes we arrive to a sigh that looks like a crime scene. A lot of the village has red and white tapes cordoning off large areas of the grass. As we find the site, we notice that there has been a lot of rain in this area maybe there has been some kind of show because everywhere is covered in mud. There is not a single van in the site, is it closed? At least it is secluded 🙂 it is now getting late and we are going to be leaving reasonably early. So we are staying but we are not going to risk going axle deep in the mud. So I stop on the hard standing in a quiet spot and we start to get dinner ready.
Since we have stopped, the cats want to go and explore the area. This is going to be a bad idea but the constant moaning is eventually enough to get Mummy to let them out knowing we will pay for it later. Within thirty minutes there is a little scrapping on the door and Bonnie is asking to come in. Bonnie has grey stockings naturally and so you know she is filthy but she doesn’t look too bad. She still gets the full cleaning treatment with a damp cloth and towel! There is then a loud thump on the step as a big cat jumps on it. I open the door to find a brown cat. Clearly not Clyde because he is white. But, it is the size of Clyde and makes lots of noise just like Clyde. Oh no. This clean up operation is a lot more work and more akin to when my parents used to clean their dogs in Spain after a winter’s walk. We get rid of the worst and the good thing about Clyde is he is meticulously clean but he will have his work cut out. Of course five minutes later, as we are eating dinner, Clyde is moaning at the door to go out – absolutely no chance, mate. Forget it and sit down.
It’s an early night, for us because we want to get on our way early in the morning, do some shopping and then get an early train so that we can be home by early Saturday evening.
The next day the drive to Boulogne is uneventful although we do pass Waterloo, nothing to do with ABBA, Amanda Furber ! I was very interested in history when I was a teenager but I have never been, funnily enough Maria has, and we agree that we will take a weekend and go there at some stage.
The route we have taken has again been toll free after leaving Austria and we have even been able to find really cheap fuel so it hasn’t been bad at all. We are now thinking whether we should try this route down to Italy but it a slight detour and the tolls to go through Austria are high, so maybe not.
Now you can’t leave France on your way home without stocking up on “essential” supplies and despite being on a diet which means we are not drinking wine (and won’t for a few months yet), we decide to stock up at Maria’s favourite, Auchan. I am always a little apprehensive about parking in the large hyper markets. The motorhome needs two parking spaces and still slightly overhangs and of course you need more space to swing the back out to turn out of the space. For this reason I normally park quite a way from everyone. I used to do this when we had a Lotus Elise so that people didn’t park close and ding the doors. Whenever I returned to the car, it was like an island of cars with the Elise in the middle. I guess people just wanted to look. Unfortunately, it seems the motorhome is the same and despite having parked with eight spaces around me, I return to find cars on all sides. This should be interesting.
Maria and I load up the wine and some other supplies and I ask Maria to stand at the back of the van to check the rear corner doesn’t get too close to any cars. One thing that has shocked me about the motorhome is the brilliant turning circle. I fully expected to be constantly doing three point turns but the lock is unbelievable. Of course the other side of the coin is that the large overhang at the rear swings out a lot, hence Maria’s role. Surprisingly, we have nothing to fear and the van comes out of the space perfectly in one take and I can wait for Maria to come back into the van before driving off. Top safety tip, don’t drive off without her. Nothing will happen to you in the van, at least until she catches you up at which stage you are dead meat. Fortunately I am enough of a gentlemen to not drive too far and she is back in the van with the cats patiently watching her and waiting for the pillow to go back on her lap!
It isn’t long to get to the Eurotunnel and with pets on board the first job is to check in the cats. The rules for cats are very different to dogs at immigration as long as their rabies is up to date. The process is very simple. Surprisingly, there aren’t many cats travelling back to the UK so Bonnie and Clyde are normally quite popular with the staff. Another advantage of going to the pet check in is that sometimes, when there is a queue, you actually bypass it quite effectively but today, despite there being cancellations, the queues aren’t too bad. The cancellations mean that we can’t get on a very early train though, despite arriving at a good time, so we will be waiting a little while. Oh well we tried.
The train journey and drive home are uneventful and we are back early evening which allows us to get some food. We decide to finish off our holiday with a meal out, at Aqua 8 in Ipswich which is a nice Asian fusion restaurant and the people are also very close to our good friends in the China chef in Colchester. This means great food and a lovely chat too so a perfect end to our holiday. We try not to regret it too much the next morning though when we discover that we have gained three pounds in a couple of days. That’ll be the lack of exercise whilst still eating and drinking but at least “easy on, easy off”. We’ll be back on the diet tomorrow.
We’re home with a day to chill before returning to work. It’s been a great holiday but I guess now we just need to go back to work to pay for it.
Most people who know us and are still living in homes think we are mad for living on a plastic boat especially in the winter. Imagine how they think when they hear we go to freezing ski resorts in a motorhome. We must be good in the cold! Those who know Maria well will know that she is not one for the cold at the best of times and so both the boat and motorhome are kept toasty warm.
We had finally arrived in Fieberbrunn after an eventful journey and had set ourselves up with piped in gas and electricity. So no problems with the internal temperature.
On arrival, you could see there had been a lot of snow already this season but over the space of the next 24 hours, there was two feet of fresh snow! That will sort out the holiday. As the snow came down, visibility was poor but the advantage of having two weeks skiing is that you don’t feel as bad if you miss a day and don’t feel obligated to go out in any conditions! It’s the first Sunday and so we decide to walk down from the resort to the village, exploring our surroundings and getting a feel for what is available. But first we have to get out of the van…
So we walk into town on a Sunday…..in France…. and we have walked the mile into town, we get there and it is closed! Everywhere is closed, including the supermarkets. The town is quite small but looks like fun so we’ll come back when it’s open.
“We walked a mile into town”, I didn’t expect to be writing that. For the last few months, Maria and I have been on the Cambridge Diet and have lost two stone each. It means we are a lot more active than we used to be and for Maria to agree to a long walk on icy and snowy roads is a major change.
The next day, it’s a little clearer but there is a lot of snow everywhere. Maria is apprehensive about going skiiing because she is worried about her feet hurting.
Maria has had problems with ski boots since we started skiing and is a little unhappy that my boots are like slippers and really comfortable whilst hers kill her. We tried to resolve this a few years ago in Chamonix, when we took Maria to the best boot fitters in town. They sized, heated, cooled, expanded parts of the boot to fit the shape of her feet and shaped an inner sole so that it was perfect. It cost a lot but Maria’s happiness is important and we can’t have Maria’s feet hurting – or Adam’s ears hurting as she complains! We returned a few times to tune the boots further and the guys did everything they could. As we went to Courcheval the following years, we went through the same process with their expert boot fitters, including even more inner soles and more expanding of parts of the boot. The pain was still there. I now believe that these are the most expensive ski boots in alpine history and I’m sure it would have been cheaper to have them cast in gold and lined with fur, obviously responsibly sourced fur – our cats shed enough for this job! Anyway, after several years of refitting, Maria’s feet still hurt after a couple of runs and I spend a lot of time on my knees trying to adjust the boots to make them comfortable for her.
The vast amount of snow in the first 24 hours would make skiing hard work, particularly on the feet and this isn’t helping Maria bite the bullet. Also the weather has closed the links from Fieberbrunn to the other parts of the ski circus so we would be limited to local skiing anyway. We’re up late in the morning and Maria agrees to go into town again to get some shopping for the next couple of weeks. So it’s another walk and we arrive at lunchtime, the town is closed again! But at least the supermarkets are open. Of course we can’t get too much shopping because we have to carry it back, but at least there is a bus that drops us off back at the ski lifts just above the camp site. So two days in and we haven’t done any skiing yet but that doesn’t stop “skiing injuries”. In places the town is very icy and Maria’s all weather boots are not as gripy as they could be, she slips over four times over the two days and bangs her knees quite hard. So we haven’t even started and Maria is injured already. We’re worried that Maria is going to struggle to “bend zee knees” as she used to hear regularly from her ski instructors. Of course a way around this is to apply some kind of ice pack. Or lay in the snow. Or do a snow angel in the snow…
We get back and all of our Austrian neighbours are busy clearing snow from their vans and pitches, so they’re not making snow angels then. They take all day doing this, constantly wheeling snow to other areas – it’s tiring just watching them. At the same time the staff are scurrying around the site in large snow ploughs – no, Maria, no snow plough, as Maria’s ski instructors would also say. We pop out to get Maria some new snow boots that she can walk in without falling over and please note that no alcohol was consumed at the time of these accidents! There is a huge Sport2000 ski shop near the lifts and Maria finds some nice new snow boots so hopefully no more accidents.
The fact that we are not skiing doesn’t get in the way of the apres ski though and we have tried all five bars in the ski area and have already identified our favourite, S4 Alm. Maria has got a taste for Aperol Spritz and is “enjoying” Austrian apres ski with its unique music! The video is a bit dark but you get the idea!
In the evening when we are home we use our amazon fire stick to catch up with TV, our favourite programmes and some films. The cats are happy to have us around too. Unfortunately, I still have to do a little work and I am on a few calls with our main software suppliers and the execs from the Trust where I am working. That doesn’t take too long and a little effort now means I can relax for the rest of the holiday.
After so much snow the weather turns and it starts to heat up. It means in the low village of Fieberbrunn, we are getting rain. The worst thing for snow is rain since it washes the snow away but there is so much snow that we should be ok.
The next day is clear and bright. We still have loads of snow and it is finally time for the skiing to start. We decide to take a nice easy blue to start off with so we can get our ski-legs sorted out. Half way down the blue and Maria’s feet are aching already. 😦
Now Maria has decided that if her feet hurt on this holiday, we are not adjusting the boots again but she will rent some boots and see how they are. We are back to Sport2000…”we’re having boot problems and would like to rent some”. They sit Maria down and try some new boots on her. They are the same make as the ones she has but the boot shape is slightly different around the front of the foot. We agree these are a good fit but the true test is out on the slopes. “Can we try a rental pair of this type please”. They apologise but these boots are not available in the rental section…. 😦 . But….you can try the ones you have on and if you like them, buy them, if not, pay a rental charge. That sounds perfect, what amazing customer service. We take the boots back to the van and prepare for a days skiing with the new boots.
The next day we are up at a reasonable time and we give it a go. The first run is a disaster, in the shop the staff have adjusted the boots to reduce the push forward in the boot but this doesn’t work with Maria’s skiing. Maria is struggling to keep her weight forward, leans back, loses confidence and seems to have gone back ten years. We go back to the shop, these aren’t working. They re-adjust the pressure on the back of the boot, we’ll give that a try tomorrow.
Tomorrow is another day. The first run is a triumph and Maria is happy. In fact she does several runs, hardly adjusting the boots at all. Best of all, is that with the weight loss, Maria is more than comfortable to bend down and adjust her own boots, not the easiest job sometimes. It means I am not on my hands and knees at the top of every lift.
To break up the skiing, we stop for lunch and Maria and I try the traditional Tiroler Gröstl. This is a meat and potato dish with an egg on top and comes
with a fantastic salad at the S4 Alm bar in Fieberbrunn. Not really in keeping with our diet regime but we have worked out if we are skiing then the reduced calorie count may not be healthy, so having had a few days on the diet we decide to eat sensibly but come off the diet for the rest of the holiday.
Later we’re back in the shop with a happy smiling Maria. The guys are pleased. We have done a few runs but we don’t want to push it too hard on the first successful day and so the guys suggest we take a third day with the boots to make a decision.
Morning of the third day (post new boots) and Maria wakes up. She has no pain in her feet but her quads are starting to hurt! Result, that is an ache I can do something about. We know exercises you can do to get the quads sorted but in our experience there is nothing you can do about painful feet. So day three and we decided to ski over to Hinterglemm. The lift we get up takes us past the camp and we can see the motorhome nestled in looking up at us.
The boots are feeling fine and Maria is loving it. She is enjoying her skiing and her legs have warmed up and the quads aren’t painful anymore but they will hurt later.
The connection to the rest of Saalbach Hinterglemm is via a couple of long enclosed lifts but these have a relatively early close so we need to have an eye on the clock or it will be an expensive taxi ride home. We have first hand experience of this from a family holiday in La Plagne when we missed the last lift to get over the top of the mountain and be able to ski down. We had to ski down the wrong side to another village and the group of us had to pile into a minibus to get back to our resort. Every time the taxi driver got a call on his phone he shouted “Oui” down the phone, and he got a lot of calls. By the end of the journey, we were all shouting “Oui” when the phone rang and giggling hysterically. He got the last laugh though when he charged us €100 for the trip home 🙂 Needless to say we try not to miss lifts anymore!
The skiing in Hinterglemm is great with big wide pistes with great snow. Maria is enjoying herself as we take the last lift up to the bubble lifts to return home. It’s been a good day and the boots are working exactly as you would want. But it has been a much harder ski and Maria can feel it in her legs.
So Maria has painful legs and that normally means that she will be demanding massages all the time until they feel better. In my experience, men and women have rather different views of massages…. Maria believes that she should be massaged regularly and her aching limbs should be relieved. Like a lot of men, I see massages as foreplay which probably means the massage part doesn’t last too long ;). But Maria can have them as much as she likes….on my terms…. Hmmm, or maybe not 😦
Anyway, we also have a spa booked for the evening which will help with Maria’s legs aching. Actually the spa is wonderful. It has everything you could want but Maria has found the “spa for two”, this is a private room with a gold hot tub in the middle of the room, a double shower, a steam room and a water bed (I’ve never been on a water bed)! Did I mention the Moët? Or the fruit bowl? Then we look at the decor….there is a painting behind the bed, two naked people talking the talk of love, there are statues of naked women…you get the idea! No? On our little tour of the room, the lady shows us the TV with DVD player. There are two DVDs, the history of skiing, available in German and English. Alternatively, there is a dodgy shoe-fetish porn video! No prizes for guessing which was in the machine :). But if I’m honest, I didn’t know that Mathias Zdarsky first skied in Austria in the early 20th century…. or that some guys find stiletto heels sexier than quite attractive young ladies!
The upshot is that Maria’s legs don’t ache as much the next day! And I have a smile on my face because she is happy. It appears that footgate is over and we have a Maria who loves her skiing and isn’t fighting pain. Absolute result. I’m sure those who have skied with Maria over the years will be equally excited at the thought. On this day, we have agreed to meet a friend of ours from the marina, Grahame. He is skiing with some friends and with Maria’s new found energy and pain-free skiing, she is keen to do more. We’re back off to Hinterglemm where we meet up with Grahame and friends before having a ski around the area. We intend to stop for lunch but time is ticking on and it is after 2:30pm when we eventually stop. We’re about to order food but just as discretion is the better part of valour, we decide that cowardice is the better part of discretion and get the lift back to the returning bubble lifts. We’re not sure how long it will take to get to the lift and food may just make us miss the last lift! Needless to say we get there quickly and leave with 40 minutes to spare.
In the past, we have taken our four children, and their partners if applicable, skiing and they are now very nice skiers having all learnt fifteen years ago. Now with Amie in Australia, Rachel in Leeds and both Matt and Kristy with busy lives, we find that they don’t join us any more. But the offer is always there. Matt had been having a bit of a hard time with two “w”s: work and women! We decided that we would surprise him by organising a long weekend when he could join us and get away from it all. The arrangements were made and the Penguin was on his way! I should probably explain that…. Matt mostly wears a black ski outfit including a black hat, with a few splashes of white. A few years ago, he was keeping his arms very close to his sides with his hands and poles out at 45 degrees. With a typically French skiing style of legs and hence skis close together, he was branded the skiing penguin! Now Matt is a lovely skier but the name has stuck.
Matt arrives and after a quick change he is ready for a gentle ski having got up at 4am to catch his flight. Anyone who knows Matt will realise how difficult that must have been! But it is one of his loves and so sacrifices have to be made. After a few runs it’s a relatively quiet evening because we have big plans for the next day.
With the joining up of Fieberbrunn to Saalback Hinterglemm, the Ski Circus has become a large horseshoe of ski areas with Fieberbrunn at one extreme. The other end of the horseshoe is Leogang and there is a bus service back to Fieberbrunn. This is quite a lot of skiing and includes a 7km run around the back of the mountains. This will truly test Maria’s new found energy levels, comfort and stamina. The day is a triumph with lots of skiing and perfect conditions. In all we ski thirty kilometres before just missing a bus that goes once an hour. We’re tired but really happy and Maria is wandering around in her ski boots without a care in the world.
We take Matt out for Apres ski at the S4 Alm bar which is rapidly becoming a regular haunt. Here he is subjected to a German language oompah version of sex on fire, it is exactly how you are imagine it (if you have a warped imagination that is!). There is also what can’t only be considered the Johnny Depp (Johnny Däpp) song which includes his name repeated often with a euro beat behind it! Very popular with the ski-boot wearing, table-top dancing Austrians, and one not-so-quiet British girl…..
Ah, I now can’t get the Johnny Däpp song out of my head….
If you have watched the video, I expect you are in the same position as me….Johnny depp, depp, depp, johnny depp, depp, johnny, johnny depp….
The Sunday is Matt’s last day skiing and so we decide to have a good day and then book into the public part of the spa, no interesting skiing videos here I’m afraid. The area is lovely and I persuade Maria and Matt to get out of the outside heated pool and sort their feet out by putting them in snow for a few seconds. They are both back in the pool very quickly! My feet? Oh I think they are fine actually and I’ll stay in the nice warm pool. The spa part also has various saunas, solarium, steam rooms and jacuzzi baths. Did I mention that it was no swimming costumes? Poor Matt. His first European spa experience is having to get into a whirlpool with us and two naked Austrian ladies. He handles it well.
But before all of that, Matt and I decide to clear the remains of the snow from around the van as preparation for our departure at the back end of the week and to avoid the icy path around the van from becoming a death trap. I borrow a large snow shovel to start moving the snow and Matt sets about the icy parts with various tools. It takes quite a while to clear all of that snow from around the van but at the end we feel accomplished and have done a good job. It certainly prepares us for the spa experience.
After the spa, we go to the nice little restaurant at the camp and have dinner. We have come out of the spa all wearing onesies so you can imagine we get some funny looks but we don’t care as we laugh and giggle. The food is really good too with a particularly nice hot chicken on a skewer with flames below it.
Too quickly, Matt’s weekend away is over and he flies back to the UK. We’re back to just the two of us, and two cats. Some people have asked what do we do with the cats when we go skiing. Well, while the mice are away, the cats will play and we generally get back to two tired out cats with all their toys strewn all over the van. When we return, we always let them out and Clyde is keen to explore his surroundings but Bonnie isn’t one to go out in the cold and will pop out but within seconds returns to the warm. Clyde likes it outside so much that quite often we need to walk around the site calling his name to get him to come home. And five minutes later he will be moaning to go out again. During the day the cats are actually very settled, they have their spots in the van and they like being near us when we get home so everyone’s happy.
With Matt on his way home, Maria decides that she enjoyed the long run to Leogang so much that she would like to do it again but do some different runs to the same destination. This is slightly shorter but again she has a great day and we arrive in Leogang very quickly and at lunchtime. This is where we discover that the hourly bus doesn’t start until 3pm. We’re not hanging around for a couple of hours so Maria books a taxi and we get to experience the expensive way home, how come every taxi between ski resorts seems to cost €100?
The holiday is going quickly now and the bright sunshine and warm temperatures we have been experiencing are starting to change. There is snowfall due to arrive by the end of the week and this should get to us by the last ski day of our holiday. Hopefully it won’t be so much that we struggle to get the van out.
It’s the last day and Maria is keen. She is up early and we are waiting for the lift to open in the morning. That is a first! We have planned to ski the Fieberbrunn area rather than going further afield, especially with snow coming in for the afternoon and overnight. We have a plan for the morning’s ski which incorporates some favourites, that are made even better because we are the first people on them and they are immaculately groomed. After some time to get her legs warmed up and remove the aches, Maria is loving it. I am trying to make sure that we still do a fair bit of skiing and have a route in mind subject to Maria’s legs being fine. She is doing great and we take a tricky red from the top through the trees. This leads us to the top of the run where it all began ten days previously. The blue where Maria’s old boots finally signed their own death warrant. It’s actually a very nice run and Maria is loving it. In fact loving it so much that towards the bottom she suggests that we get a couple more lifts up and do an additional three runs before calling it a day! Those boots have magic powder in them. We head back up for definitely the last runs….. we eventually take a different, and harder, route home with another red run through some trees and that’s it we’re done by lunchtime. Maria pops back into Sport2000 to thank them for everything they have done and by the time we come out, the clouds are in, visibility is awful and the snow is falling. Perfect timing. Although it will mean that I will be getting the snow shovel again and digging us out before we can go anywhere – where’s your only son when you need him.
We get the skis back to the van and let the cats out. Bonnie sees white stuff falling from the sky and makes a bolt back for the van. However, Snowflake, as Clyde has now been termed, is loving the snow and getting covered. He just doesn’t care.
It’s not the first alternative name that Clyde has had. During last year’s ski holiday, Maria’s calling of Clyde in the evening was misheard by some of our neighbours who thought she was “Cedric’s mum”. We decided that Cedric was Clyde’s alter ego, so whenever he was good he was Clyde but sometimes Cedric turned up! Both cats also have some other alternative names which are probably best not repeated since they normally come out when they have been naughty or have been able to conjour up a particularly strong smell in the litter box.
Returning to the skiing, what an amazing holiday. The ski passes allow you to log how much skiing you have done and we find that Maria has done over 150km of skiing during the trip. On a couple of days Maria was nearly at 30km of piste travelled. All that hard work has also helped with our weight loss. We had been eating reasonably sensibly but we did say that we were going to enjoy the holiday and deal with the consequences. Maria had even brought our scales so that she could understand how we were doing. By departure day we had actually continued to lose weight without being on the diet. That changed on the trip back when we were driving and not being active but certainly was a pleasant surprise.
As for costs, another pleasant surprise. We had used the private spa on a couple of occasions which obviously added to the bill but the electricity and gas cost was a shade over £100 for the two weeks and the heating had been on all the time.
Probably the best review you could get of the holiday would be that we have decided to go back next year, same weeks and same place. It must be pretty good if you decide that while you are out there!
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 🙂
We find the motorhome stop in Volpedo down by the football pitches and 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 cats 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 Frejus 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.
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. This 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.
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.
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 were 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. These 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 front 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 asleep 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 €12) 🙂
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.
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.
The 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 – and 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 🙂
We are very lucky in the motorhome with the cats since they have their standard positions for travelling: Bonnie likes to sit in a gap above the drivers head and sleep, for the entire journey! Clyde 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 be 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 😉 ! 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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 🙂 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. Clyde has had to adjust to sleeping on the floor rather than Mummy’s lap but 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 🙂
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 🙂 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 on 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. At 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.
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. Maria 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!
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 😦 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…. 🙂
Mariadz, when we first got her, had a SOBA washing machine which is small and apparently designed for the yachting life. However, Maria wanted to see if there was a portable solution that would work on the boat, in the motorhome or in Italy before the main house was finished.
In the end, she decided on a PORTABLE 230V MINI 3KG WASHING MACHINE. so watch this space to see how this handles our motorhome holiday to Italy and a few uses on the boat during the summer…..the answer is very well. It is slower than a normal wash because you have to manually change it from wash to spin and the load is not huge but for washing in a hot climate it seems to be a pretty good solution and got a lot of use on our recent trip to Southern Italy.
I have to say though, that I am looking to see whether the Drumi a low-water usage, foot-operated washer takes off. It looks a really good design but a bit pricey. The price may come down over time so I am keeping an eye on it.
After ten days in Puglia it was time to come home and having taken Lisa to the airport via Alberobello, we packed up the small house and started getting ready for our departure.
The route back was going to take a little longer than the 2.5 days we’d spent driving down and we had allowed six days for the return. Unfortunately during my holiday, I had been required to work every other day and rather than taking the Monday off as agreed, it was clear I would be needed in the office on Monday. This meant we had five days to return but also meant we were trying to change our booking on the busiest day of the year, the last day of the school summer holidays. Still that was a few days away.
Our initial thought was to get as far up Italy as we could to the slightly cooler weather and then drift through France visiting some of the wine regions. We were due to set off early but due to a combination of leaving too much to do on the last day and a work call we didn’t leave til 9:30am. Our routing was again up the picturesque Adriatica.
This meant that we would have no chance of getting as far as Milan or Turin which would be an additional two and four hours respectively, so we were likely to stop shortly after Bologna. There are some spectacular views as you drive up the east coast of Italy with an almost constant view of the Sea, mountains on the inland side and sometimes some great views where the road goes up into the hills. As we made our way north, Maria started to look into where we could go. Eventually we decided to go to Maranello, home of the Ferrari museum.
We arrived in the town at around 7pm having filled up with fuel to avoid any disasters whilst driving around country lanes – not that we have any history of panicking while looking for fuel. To get in we had to call a number so that we could get the code to open the gate for an area that had power, water and waste facilities as well as being on the river in the centre of town. We had also been told to cross the river via the bridge and pop into a restaurant to pay the €7 charge for the night. Having parked up with a little space between two Italian vans we headed to the restaurant. Having paid our money, it seemed churlish not to have a quick beer having driven so far, and I am sure the cats wouldn’t mind…… With our drinks came some tasters in the local style and since it was getting late we decided to get a little food from the restaurant to take to the van rather than cook. Returning to the van, we agreed to let the cats out for a short time, the area seemed quite safe and despite the five vans also staying there, there were no dogs. At this time of year and this high up Italy, it gets dark a little early and so the cats were not out for long before it got dark. We wanted to get the cats in as it got dark and so started to call them – nothing!
So we are trying to call the cats in while searching for them using a very high powered torch (thanks Kristy). As we are searching the search party is joined by an additional member, Melina Russo from Sicilly who is an artist who loves owls and cats and is touring Italy going to markets and fares selling her art. And she loves our cats. Eventually we get the cats back and it is now pitch black and Clyde is playfully attacked by a wild cat about half his size. So he runs away! We settle down to talking to Melina and Luico and share a few glasses of wine. We talk about Puglia and get them some of our lovely olive oil and Melina kindly gives us one of her pieces of art.
So we have arrived in France and agree that a small tour of the vineyards would be very pleasant. 🙂 so first stop Beaujolais… We have found a very nice remote vineyard to go to so the cats should be allowed to explore.
Maria is tired and is dozing a bit while I drive. She then wakes up and decides she is bored. Apart from waving at all motorhomes, maria wants to play some of her favourite music….and the Dolly Parton Cd is in the van….so that means islands in the stream….which means guest vocals from her very own “Kenny Rogers”…..with video……and onto Facebook…..oh dear! So now rather than just everyone thinking that we are mad, there is documentary proof on Maria’s Facebook feed.
Funnily enough, rather than abuse, we receive lots of favourable comments but not so much about the singing as the fun and having a good time.
One of the few problems that we have with the motorhome is that the satnav built into it does not recognise that it is not in a Fiat CinqueCiento. So it decides to take you down some roads that are ….. “tricky”. This all adds to the fun and means that we have to be ever-watchful rather than trusting the satnav, this was ably proven on the trip down but the satnav didn’t disappoint this time either. Having taken us down some windy single track roads, it asked us to make a 90degree right turn at the smallest crossroads I have seen with buildings in each corner. Needless to say there was no chance we could make it. We kept going and tried to see if the was another way to that road. This vineyard is on the French Passion list of friendly sites that do not charge and have produce you can try, so they must be able to take a motorhome. Having skirted all round the area we found the other way into “that” road. It is tight but doable. However, I have no idea what awaits when I get into this road….am I going to have to reverse out of it around another incredibly tight junction? I decide that discretion is the better part of valour, having already proven that cowardice was the best part of discretion at the other end of the road by not taking the turn. I park up at a reasonable spot and walk the route. It’s actually very nice with fields of vines a hard standing and then up the other side towards the impossible junction there is the main building where I am greeted by a friendly gentleman and I explain what we are doing there. He gives us the choice of parking near the building or down on the hard
standing at the bottom of the field. The privacy down there would be great for the cats, and having checked it is ok for us to let the cats out (“but of course…tell them to catch some mice” – with a French accent please), I return to the vehicle to get us to our overnight stop. It is lovely. The cats, however, are being a little naughty. This involves generally getting too close to the road and Bonnie deciding that the fenced off house on the other side of the road (with a cat) is somewhere she would like to explore! It is such a lovely evening that the lady of the house is sitting comfortably outside as we are telling Bonnie off and politely asking the naughty girl to come this
side of the fence! On seeing our cat the lady becomes a new friend and chats to Maria for some time about cats and travelling for some time. It is now our opportunity to go and visit the building to “test” their wares and so we get the cats into the van and set up the mosquito nets so that they have some fresh air.
In common with a number of English when you see Brouilly, Fleurie and Beaujolais
Village on a wine list, it is difficult to resist a taste. Now the important thing to remember is that these places, in France Passion, do not charge you to stay and have no expectation that you will spend money. In our case though we have noticed that a stay in a vineyard generally costs us between one hundred and two hundred euros a night! However, we do get some very nice wine 🙂
We return to the van quite “happy”, to be greeted by Clyde outside of the van. Hmmm, that’s not good as we find the mosquito net in our bedroom separated from its frame with a cat sized hole. He could get out but he couldn’t get in again. I make the necessary repairs and it is ok but that will be closed with the blind at night. Dinner is a quick and simple affair washed down with a bottle of free wine, I guess if you spend some money a little charity is easy to offer. It’s been a reasonably long day and we are still recovering from the first drive through Italy so it is an early night and prepare for driving to Chablis the next day. My comfortable nights sleep is disturbed a little at 4am when I wake and think where are the cats….Bonnie is fast asleep (such a good girl) but there is no sign of Clyde, the little beggar has made another cat sized hole in the mosquito netting in the lounge area. I am so happy to have to get dressed and go outside to find our “favourite” cat. After ten minutes of fruitless searching and calling, but not too loud so as to wake the neighbours, I haven’t found him. Talking to Maria, we are trying to decide what to do. I go out for one more look. Usually when you call the cats by name, they come running home. Clyde generally shouting and wanting some attention. However, he knew he was naughty on this occasion. The normally shouty cat was very quiet as he crept round the corner. He also would not let me in range to grab him and it took another few minutes to get him in. He knows he has done wrong. Eventually he comes back in and we are all able to get back to sleep with a few less windows open. The next day we are up at a reasonable time and it is time to say goodbye.
Onwards to Chablis, also the source of some wines that we may quite like. Fresh from her motorhome karaoke “success” of the previous day, Maria decides that more singing and further videos are required. More perusing of the Dolly Parton collection and she has selected “her we go again”. Fortunately for the audience this is not one I need to sing so Maria sings along while I do the drive-dancing, yes I know it is sad!
The final song has to be one of our wedding songs, happy people. At this stage I am finally able to get her to stop videoing me driving and singing but it has kept her happy for a while and she returns to wildly waving at motorhomes coming the other way.
Those who know us will know that Maria is very particular about things and at times last year it took travelling to four sites to find one that she liked enough to stay. Unfortunately Chablis this year was one of these problems. We knew one that we wanted to go to and it seems perfect: remote, nice choice of wines and we would get the early. We arrived and they had completely redeveloped the buildings into a very professional wine tasting and selling area (think some of the top houses in Champagne). Very commercial and very expensive, with no wine under ten euros. I know that is not a lot of money but we have been spoils by trying some of the smaller vineyards and we keen for something a little more intimate. So having parked up in front of a beautiful church , I took Maria to review the facilities and take a view. It was a no. So we looked through the book at other potential places. Maria was convinced that we hadn’t stayed in Chablis before but I thought I remembered one place a few years previously. Our second choice, was the place we had previously stayed at, again a no. Number three looked nice enough and we stopped outside because it looked a difficult entrance. The lady from the place came running down the road to help us but when we checked there was no way we could get a large motorhome into the courtyard and Maria was also worried that the cats wouldn’t be able to roam. Four and five faired little better, one being closed with no-one around and the other being close to the road with lots of motorhomes and dogs. Our book is running out of places to stay! We then noticed that in the book there are several categories and it doesn’t have to be a vineyard to sell wine. We tried one more before we agreed to give up on Chablis. We have now been searching for somewhere to stay for nearly two hours and it is no longer the early stop that we (I.e. Maria) were hoping for. This place is not marked as a vineyard but offers wine as part of their produce. I pop in to have a chat. The “cave” where you try the wine is nice and cosy. I then get directed to where we can park for the night. There is a small field round the back with fantastic views and a number of tractors parked. We can slot between these and then put it anywhere in the field. No problem and satisfies Maria’s requirement for exploring space for the cats. As I return to the motorhome, a couple of the men from the farm move the tractors for us and by the time I return with the van we have a clear field.
Wine tasting and another gift from the owner including six white wine glasses with the logo of the farm. We are also quite
close to their vegetable patch and when the owner brings our wine over he shows Maria the variety of vegetables he is growing. This ends up with some fresh veg for dinner 🙂 We let the cats out again while we prep dinner and it’s another lovely quiet evening.
In parallel to all of the fun of the holiday and the drive, I have been continually contacted by work and although I am not meant to be returning to work until Tuesday it becomes clear that my boss, once again, wants me to return early. We are returning to the UK on the busiest weekend of the year, the last weekend of the summer holidays, and despite Maria taking a couple of hours she is struggling to change our crossing to the Sunday. We decide to head up towards Calais and try our luck in person on Sunday morning.
At one of the Aires we met this unusual gentleman,
it made Maria’s day 🙂
However before we can worry about the crossing, we have to get there. Everyone knows the quickest way from Chablis to the UK. It is via the centre of Paris of course!
Well it is according to our satnav – oh why did we listen… We got the full Parisian tour from our friendly satnav including the Eiffel Tower and the arc de triomphe. In Paris, during the day, with lots of traffic, in a large uk registered motorhome, you can imagine how much fun was had!
But where to stay on Saturday night? We want to be close to Calais but far enough away so that we don’t have to worry about anyone trying to get into the van to get across to the UK. Maria searches through the Aires book and finds one outside Boulogne that looks nice and is a working farm. The site has power and water and charges approximately seven euros a night, the most we have paid for staying anywhere in France in three years! We arrive and there is one other old motorhome with an old French couple with a dog that is on a long lead off a pole. As we stop and get ourselves sorted, the cats get out to take a look. The Frenchman comes over to talk to us and tells us that the owners are away for a while and will return but that there is a sheepdog outside of the farmhouse. This is a fair way away from us but nice of him to warn us. The cats are not wandering far but we are keeping our eyes on them as we settle down for a sit down, chat and perhaps a small glass of wine. The young owner returns and we pay for our overnight and naturally offer him a glass of wine. He enjoys the burgundy (clearly the Beaujolais is being saved for the return to England) but then has to excuse himself but will return shortly. We didn’t think anything of it until he returns a few minutes later with a bottle of wine – try this burgundy too it is lovely :). So another night and another gift. He even refuses to share a glass with us and we all settle down for another nice evening. Unfortunately the rain starts to settle in and so we are restricted to the motorhome but that isn’t so bad with music playing (but not too loud!). The next morning we are up bright and early, we want to try and give the best chance of an early return but we have the fallback of returning to the farmhouse if we want to (but it is still raining).
Our first stop is the pet control area where you have to be checked prior to checking in. At first they refuse to check us in, we are 24 hours early and every crossing is fully booked. We have a little bit of a sob story and asked if they could speak to someone and the lady let us book another ticket and we would be gone in a few hours – result 🙂 and of course any reasonable boss would be happy to pay the extra for cutting my holiday short (again), hmmm maybe not! We go round to check in and get offered an earlier crossing still and now we are leaving in an hour. As we pass through to the holding area, our letter comes up and we are directed straight through and onto a train. We are gone about 30 minutes after checking in. When it works, it works really well.
In addition to communicating with work while I have been away, I have been also trying to keep my wife happy (which as everyone knows is a simple task :)). When we bought the motorhome, we didn’t consider whether we wanted rear corner steadies, that stop the back of the van moving around when you are in it. We have all seen the “if the van is rocking…” signs, well this will put paid to that! And it will also ensure that Maria’s alternative way of stopping the van rocking is no longer valid 😜. One of the autotrail owners that we have met on the internet is selling a set and we have arranged to pick these up on our way to Lisa’s for a Sunday roast. We arrive early and have a nice chat to Trevor Saville, who unfortunately for him and me, has seen the videos. He is still laughing about us! We check that the steadies will fit the van and are good to go. In fact I am able to fit them within ten minutes at Lisa’s so we are all good :). After a fantastic lunch, we pack up our stuff and head home to the boat and Ipswich where the cats can roam around the home turf and not be locked up. The end of two and a half weeks of fun and games for all of us.
Our summer holiday this year was to be off the boat and a trip down to our building project in the South of Italy. Rather than fly and so we could take Bonnie and Clyde with us (and Maria’s best friend Lisa!), we decided to drive down again this time in our own motorhome for the first time. We have done this for the last few years first in a rented motorhome which was old and decrepit but exceptionally expensive to hire, then in a newer one which was kindly lent to us by the motorhome dealer when ours was delayed and wasn’t ready for our holiday. This was great but didn’t have air conditioning in the cab which when the temperatures were pushing 40 degrees Celsius, was quite uncomfortable for everyone especially the cats. Anyway, this year we have the new super MH Mariadz which redefines glamping.
A quick introduction to the motorhome may be in order. First of all, he is a he! You can’t weigh 4.25 tonnes and be built like a brick….. and be a girl! So he is a big boy that looks after us.
We finally had delivery of the Autotrail Tracker RB (rear bed) in August 2015 just as we returned from our motorhome holiday to Italy. We had upgraded the engine to 150 HP which with the weight is probably the minimum you should really go for. It can sleep six in three double beds: one in the cab, the saloon that converts and an island bed in the rear. There is a small TV that drops down between the two seats in the cab, which swivel. This is an Avtex TV and we did have a problem with it but their customer service was amazing and they replaced the TV without a quibble when we were having a problem with the volume. The quality of the picture is great for a small TV but not quite the cinema experience that you get from the wall mounted 32″ TV in the bedroom. At first we were worried about how the cats would take to the motorhome, they have traditionally been great but the 2015 Italy tour had been a shocking experience with very high temperatures and no opportunity for the cats to get cool. They pretty much spent two days constantly panting and we were worried that they would never want to go near a motorhome again. However, our own one with everything chosen for us and the cats was a different matter entirely and they settle down really well and have their favourite spots. To be fair this probably has something to do with the fact that they pretty much lived on the motorhome for about six weeks at the end of 2015 as the boat was out of action having its electrical system refreshed.
So to get to the holiday…. Maria, as is her want, had pinched some days at the start and at the end of the holiday so that our two week holiday is almost three weeks. The channel tunnel is booked for Wednesday night which gives us a few days to travel down the 1,500 miles to Puglia from Ipswich. Our friend Andrea has asked for some help on the Saturday which means as well as picking up a small car we have to help prep a villa for someone’s holiday. Andrea had been let down and has been so helpful to us that it was the least we could do.
Our routing is to cross the channel and get a hundred miles or so away from Calais. The next day to go via Lyon and the Frejus tunnel through the Alps to get to Northern Italy before travelling down the Autostrada Adriatica which goes the length of Italy down its Eastern coast and includes some stunning views and a view of the sea nearly all of the time. Our last stop was going to be a few hours away from home so that we could get up early and do our chores before dropping the cats off at the house and helping Andrea. You would have thought that with two people who have to plan as their day job most of the year, this simple plan would be a walk in the park but of course, those who know us will know that we try to be a little more spontaneous in life than our jobs allow us to be.
We have plans to leave South Woodham about 3pm (remember how Maria steals time when on holiday?). I have made arrangements during the week to get my handover in place in good time and then work from home on Wednesday cleaning up anything I need to. Unfortunately I will be working whilst on holiday but it shouldn’t be too much time and helps me to make sure that everything keeps ticking over and no one misses me too much :). My boss mentions to me early in the week that he would like a face to face meeting in Ipswich after he arrives on a train at 13:07 and before he goes to a meeting at 13:30. This means I am picking him up from Ipswich station and taking him to the hospital for his meeting and discussing anything on route. Lisa is kind enough to let me borrow her car for this errand after my attempts to discuss doing this conversation over the phone are futile. I am half way to Ipswich when I get the call that the train is delayed and not to bother picking him up. At least I am back in good time for the departure.
As is always the way, the work expands to fill the amount of time and then some, so we are not ready to leave until 3:30pm. We are all aboard and we pull out of Lisa’s road, quick chorus of Cliff Richard summer holiday (well we are taking our ‘bus’ to the continent) and we are on our way…..to the first roundabout where we discover that Maria has left her wedding, engagement and eternity rings on the side! About turn, back to Lisa’s, retrieve rings, check that nothing else has been left and we are ready to go again. Another chorus of Summer Holiday (Lisa still didn’t join in), and we are happily motoring down the A130 and A13 on the start of the 1,500 miles. We are making good progress with 20 miles in 20 minutes before we arrive at a bad queue of traffic. We can tell it is bad because people are out of their cars and discussing how long they have been waiting. We had heard about a bad accident on the bridge the night before but surely this couldn’t still be the same problem. We are stuck for two hours in this queue and find it is all because of the problems at the interchange of the A13 and M25 which is cut down to one lane instead of three. The ironic thing is if we had gone from Ipswich we would have avoided the problem so our attempt to save time backfired. Still in a journey that is likely to take 24 hours of driving, what’s a couple of hours of delay!
We get to the tunnel a couple of hours late but are on a train within 30 minutes including time for Lisa and Maria to go and do some duty free shopping and get some fast food, we will be too late to eat when we get to France. We make good progress in France and are parked up in the bellicourt aire shortly after 11pm.
The French Aires are brilliant, they are usually quiet areas where motorhomes can park overnight, sometimes with a small charge. There are two motorhomes in this one and we find a good spot where we can settle down for the night. In the morning we let the cats out for a short while before prepping to go. In this time, Clyde caught three mice but didn’t eat them I imagine French mice taste of too much garlic. This particular aire is excellent because it is on a road that runs parallel to the A26, the main road south from Calais. It is also great because the route back to the motorway goes past an Auchan for fuel and supplies.
The French motorway network is great but expensive and they know you are a captive audience for fuel and food so diesel prices were €1.40 rather than €1.20 in the Auchan. So staying at the aire actually saves you money :). We stock up on essential supplies at Auchan (bread, cheese, pate, mussels, water, wine – go on tell me you are surprised!) and are on the road at 9:30am, again a little later than we intended. The drive through France is uneventful with stops for fuel and opportunities to swap driver and passenger seating so Lisa isn’t stuck in the back all trip. The cats are settled and comfortable like a couple of bookends in their cubby holes overlooking the cab. Bonnie in particular doesn’t move but Clyde spends time up there, time with the rear passenger being fussed and then lies like a dog on the floor near to Maria and Adam. We go through the 13km tunnel through the Alps and we are now on the Italian side. Maria practices her Italian for five minutes, she does this every time we arrive in Italy 🙂 We’re now thinking of where to stop and clearly we will not be making Bologna on the Eastern side of Italy. We are just short of Torino and still in the Alps and decide to find somewhere close to the motorway but secluded so that the cats can get out. Maria finds a camper stop which supposedly costs €10 a night (but in our experience they hardly ever collect) and it is described as “isolated”, perfectfor us. It is in amongst the mountains so the views are stunning. Again there are two vans in there, it looks like an orchard with lots of small trees, not easy for a large motorhome to negotiate. One of the motorhomes is being stored but the other has a dog outside which isn’t on a lead, that will scupper our plans. Maria’s not having that and marches over but I suspect she was very polite and nice when she got there because the other motorhomers said no problem we will keep the dog in and let your cats have free roaming across the site! Of course they did this in French which Maria doesn’t really speak but the effect was the same. We also discover that isolated doesn’t quite capture the essence of the the hill climb course for the village youngsters as they drive up and down the road at high revs for some time. This is of course a road that Clyde in particular would like to cross to see what is on the other side. Let’s just say that Lisa made it clear to him that he should stay near us! However he now has the devil in him and decides to randomly climb ten foot up each of the trees around the motorhome. A cat that swims and climbs trees, nutter! Bonnie of course is a lady, and everyone knows that ladies would never do such a thing….but it is very tempting and maybe just a stretch up the tree would be OK….that’s probably enough, time for a sleep.
When we arrive it is a little cloudy which spoils the view a little but the next day is clear and sunny and the view is spectacular. Still no time to dawdle, so a few pics and it’s time to head off to try and make up for lost time and get all the way down to Foggia so we don’t have too far to go, and hence an early start on Saturday. This is the day that Lisa has been looking forward to, the fabled Autostrada Adriatica with the blue and green sea on one side and villages clinging onto mountain sides overlooking the stunning view. However, in Northern Italy at this time it is cloudy with occasional rain which somewhat limits the view. Quite early on we get a message from Andrea saying that we can stand down for work on Saturday which means we now only need to arrive before 1pm to collect the hire car. That changes our plans, rather than driving for ages to get to Foggia we can take our time and have a stop a little earlier leaving more driving for the next day. Maria does some research and finds what looks a lovely stop in amongst the Apennine mountains that run the length of Italy. It is our first visit into this mountain range, we understand you can ski there during the winter so that will be on the list at some stage. We are driving up into the mountains and the satnav tells us to take a right up a very steep hill to get to the site. I don’t notice a draining dip at the bottom of the hill and as the rear wheels go into this there is a nasty scrape as the fibreglass shell at the rear makes contact with the road. Now one thing our yachtmaster taught us is that making contact with the ground is not a good thing, at least not in our boat (or motorhome). Maria gets out to investigate. You’d better take a look! Heart in mouth I step down from the cab ( why didn’t I look at the dip, why didn’t I just bail and not go for the hill, how bad is this going to be….). I am relieved to find that the rear bumper is not hanging off and in fact it just looks MH Mariadz is just sitting nonchalantly on her rear corner. However, as I found when I had the lotus, roads do a lot of damage to fibre glass so we need to think about how we get out of this. In the end we deployed our levelling ramps so that we could go backwards onto these lifting the rear and mitigating the dip of the storm drain. We get out of it and Maria reports that it looks like we haven’t had too much damage, we can check that out later. We are all a little shook up but continue because the site looks good and clearly it must be accessible for motorhomes. As we are trying to find our way I take a diversion onto a mountain pass which is very thin with a rock face on one side and a wall protecting you from a severe drop, think end of the Italian job. I so much don’t want to be here but there is no way I can turn around and a lot of traffic going both ways. I am going through tunnels in the mountains and am fortunate that i am meeting other vehicles at the right places or I would be trying to reverse with a queue of traffic down meanering thin roads with motorhome-wrecking objects on both sides. We get to a passing spot and I let five cars go by. We take a look and decide that this is our opportunity to do a three (ish) point turn. Maria and Lisa get out and stop the traffic while I attempt to do the turn without damaging anything under the watchful eye of the mountain goats. Actually the manoeuvre goes without a hitch and we are now returning down the really small roads with cars coming up but hey we’ve done this before. At this stage I discover that I had nothing to worry about previously. Far from it being difficult to bring a motorhome up the road it is actually quite easy to bring a coach up there too. Now we are in trouble. I get around some very thin stuff before the oncoming coach is upon us and I have found a patch of road a little wider. I reverse so as to get as close as I can to the wall but the coach driver is not at all worried, he has been here before and throws it around us with barely a pause and we continue. Back through the thin tunnel with not enough room to pass, nothing coming the other way, phew. That’s it, we are bailing on this stop and need to find somewhere else to go.
I may not have mentioned that just before we came off the motorway we tried to fill up with fuel but the station was out of fuel. Still we had a range of well over 100 miles so we will just fill up at the next place. After our fun and games the range is down to 34 miles. Maria selects a new destination which looks good and is 25 miles away. Time to go to fuel saving mode especially as the van tells me that we are low on fuel and refuses to give me any more idea of how many miles we have to go, sulking I guess. After more mountain roads which are in terrible condition we get onto a main road. Surely there will be a petrol station. After several miles, when actually the range came back to life and suggested 60 miles before changing its mind and sulking again, we find a petrol station and are able to fill up. We now can go back to our journey without any fears. The stop Maria has selected appears to be in a hotel with a spot that overlooks a football pitch so a good space for the cats. We get there, it isn’t quite as it has been portrayed. On the approach there are two youngish African ladies wearing relatively little just standing by the side of the road. Hmm maybe this hotel rents rooms by the hour! We drive up the slope to the hotel and find what looks to be a converted residence with washing hanging outside. This isn’t the right place, there isn’t a football pitch for a start. As we are starting to drive away I spotted a drive way, well a path through the trees. I go to investigate on foot because I don’t fancy another tricky piece of driving tonight. As I get to the bottom I see a football pitch with some hard standing next to it that has seen better days. But it is completely empty and there is lots of space for the cats. I return to the van and come up with a way to get into the tight entrance. We get down there and it is perfect. The girls are worried that they are going to get killed in their beds but we have an alarm on the van so at least we will wake up for it! Needless to say there are no problems overnight and the cats get some quality time outside. Even better, on inspection the rear quarter is undamaged, we stopped immediately we heard the noise and fortunately before anything disasterous happened – result.
The next morning is also bright and sunny but cold at 14 degrees, we came to Italy for the heat but the mountains are cold overnight and then heat up during the day. Anyway, where we are going it is going to be hot, hot, hot.
After an hour of driving, we are back on the Adriatica but the satnav is telling me that we are likely to arrive at about 12:30, quite close to our 1pm deadline. There are a couple of milestones as you come down the road, the first is entering Puglia and the second is when you see Brindisi on the road signs. We get to Bari mid Saturday morning, this is not a good time to get to Bari. The signs tell us that there is slow traffic for 40kms. That is going to cause us some problems. Maria’s suggestion is that I speak to the non English speaking person at Sixt car hire in Mesagne and explain the situation in my faltering Italian. I am saved by the bell when the very nice lady at Sixt, Brindisi airport, calls me to ask if it would be possible to pick the car up from the airport so that the team at Mesagne can go home. Brilliant, that is 30 minutes closer, and on our way. Moods are improved and I haven’t had to completely embarrass myself by phoning them up, and lower myself in Maria’s estimation who seems to think that I would have no problem with this conversation.
Undeterred, Maria points out that we are likely to have no water and so I still need to phone Guiseppe, lovely guy who also does not speak English, and discuss him delivering water to us after we have been shopping and got to the house. I wait until we get to Auchan in Mesagne to make that call and by some miracle we seem to get the message across and he arrives ten minutes after we get to the villa.
We have travelled 1,600 miles in just under three days and it has been remarkably comfortable and stress free.
The cats have been impeccable during the day, just chilling or taking some time for attention. The evening is a different story. We know that Bonnie normally starts the trouble and then when Clyde gets wound up she runs away. She then sprints to her safe zone which is mum and dad’s bed at 2am, and 4am, and 6am. Aren’t they precious :). We also had to tell Lisa about this since she slept through their games.
We are now in Puglia for the next few weeks. The build looks amazing (another update to follow) and the weather is fantastic. Just a little work to do to keep things ticking over and a lovely rest.
So this is the start of a new adventure for us. The plans to sail around the world have been in place for five years now but this is our first opportunity to discuss the trials of how we got here :). Firstly, why Mariadz:
It’s a combination of Maria and Adam (or Adz)
It’s recognition that from the first moment Maria met Adam, all she ever wanted to do was marry Adz!
In 2015 we sold our gorgeous six bedroom home in West Bergholt, Essex. We had many great parties at the house and will miss the built in DJ decks, pool table, hot tub and huge TV with cinema sound. Funnily enough we don’t miss it but we had some great times.
We now live on SY Mariadz while we save the money to allow us to give up work and go travelling. How can someone give up work, we are not rich.
So we have been saving whatever money we have left and building a house in Italy. The plan is that this beautiful holiday home (plug-plug) will rent out during the summer and the income for this will keep us in beans and rice. It’s a plan 🙂
It does take time though, it took a year to buy the land and then two years for planning permission, the build has also taken a number of years so it looks like the house will be ready from 2017 (so get in quick with your bookings).
For the time being, we have also bought a motorhome so that we are not chained to the boat at the moment. This helps us with our frequent trips to Puglia and also gives us another retreat. It is an Autotrail tracker RB with a few creature comforts added. We will also document some of the fun and games we have in the motorhome. No prizes for guessing that it is also called Mariadz by the way 🙂
Now how can I get through so far into this post and I haven’t mentioned our four gorgeous kids (the pic may be a little old, but they were cute then :)).
This was when we went on a tour to india and met up with a lot of really good friends. They are from left to right: Amie, Matthew, Kristy and Rachel. Amie and Kristy are Maria’s twins and Matthew and Rachel are Adam’s children. This picture was taken back in 2007 when the girls were all 13 and Matt was 11. They have changed since then – we may blog about them at some stage (if we are allowed!).
There are two other members of our family….. our two gorgeous cats: Bonnie and Clyde. These are two ragdolls, born in 2010. They have their own facebook page! They are very affectionate and important members of our crew.
And this is where all of the fun will be had, our 2001 Moody 54, Mariadz – extensively refitted, and more of that as we blog.
So a lot for us to talk about, hopefully some of it will be interesting for people to see!