More than a feeling?

I wanted to like denmark.

Before we left, I read a book about living in denmark, and at a time when I felt so disenfranchised with the state of affairs in the UK, Denmark seemed like my happy place.

We entered Denmark on the 1st of june, and Liz and I both said how even though nothing had changed, it felt so different from germany. Within 10 miles of crossing the boarder it was apparent, though hard to pinpoint exactly what it was.

The fields seemed a bit softer, a bit greener, there was nobody on the roads (the next day I went for a cycle, 8 cars overtook me in 6 miles, and sadly, thats not because I was unleashing my inner Chris Froome). There was nobody impatiently pushing us on in the van, in fact most of the speed limits we have encountered so far suit us at 80kph, I’m not sure what it is, it’s just a feeling. This maybe a placebo kicking in from before we left, or it could be that this is indeed a very pleasant place to be.

After our trip to the island, we stopped off in Ribe for a couple of nights. Apparently Denmark’s oldest town, with remains dating back to 1145AD (though to my untrained eye, it just looked like an old brick built wall). The building tasked with housing them was more impressive to me.

Wibbly wobbly squat old houses sat along cobbled streets,

doors and windows all over the place, with not a right angle in sight.

We really relaxed here, Mabel could stroll the streets safely as there was almost no traffic, except a motorised sofa (I kid you not).

The usual protocol ensued, and back at the van I was on the iPad checking for house prices. I didn’t find anything for sale in Ribe, I imagine there a bit like hens teeth.

The next day we went on to Esbjerg, I hoped to find a decent town to get a feel of, but a bit like those famous Hamburg markets, it looked shit. I was in a mood anyway, so we stopped and looked at the giant men staring out to see, and left, ending up in a town called Varde.

The  stopover was again a car park (anyone spot a theme developing) on the outskirts of a seemingly bland small town. We wandered in to do the laundry (the biggest bore about living in a van) and pootled around a few streets, before getting back, and Liz cooking a fantastic risotto. Whilst she was busy at the hob, I took Mabel for a perimeter walk of the car park. There we found we were at the edge of the grounds of a music school. There were outdoor instruments arranged around a striking bandstand type structure which when approached began to play a very atmospheric 5 minute piece accompanied by a light show of LEDs set into the concrete walls around. It was amazing, and so unexpected. Delving a little further was a whole host of sensory stuff for kids

all free to just interact with, and none of it vandalised.

Liz and I commented on it and how good it must be to have people backing projects like that in your town. Today is the 5th June, Danish Constituion day. Nothing goes on, but everything is shut. We needed some food, so headed for the nearest Lidl hoping it would be open. There were two cars in the car park, but all of their ‘special’ stock outside the front door.

“It must be open then” I say “they’ve got all their plants and tat outside”

As I near the door, I know its closed.

“So seemingly, nobody here steals stuff either!” I say to Liz on returning to the van, two climbing roses and bag of compost stuffed up my jumper. (its a joke! Calm down!)

It’s a strange thing to pick up on to define a nation, but it’s how it feels here; safe, trustworthy, and honest. I shouldn’t be surprised, as I understand it’s not abnormal to leave your baby outside a cafe whilst popping in for a coffe over here. So nobody is going to bat an eyelid at a couple of missing floribunda and bag of john innes No3 🙂

Our first night in the Netherlands

Our first night in the Netherlands

When we pull up in the van to the motorhome stopover I’ve found for our first night in the Netherlands, it’s hot. There is no shade. Still I wish to face into the sun so we have the view of the sea through the front of the van. To our right is an industrial building and storage yard. In front and to the left is a grassy wetlands slopping down to the water. It could be a canal, or ocean, or a river… to be honest there is so much water around the islands of Zeeland I have no idea if it is salty or not most of the time.

The sky is bright blue and there have been no clouds in days. We had come to the coast hoping for a breeze. It is there but the sun is still stronger. We walk the path ahead between wetlands and water. Along it we hear ducks and there are also frogs, loudly, hiding in the tall grass. We find a stretch of benches facing the water and sit watching huge ships, heavy with cargo, gliding silently past us. We also find what looks like a huge birds nest. This fascinates Mabel and she spends a good amount of time sitting in it, making us sit in it, and generally poking sticks about. But it is time to head back to the van and the shade it would offer us.

The day is Sunday and we have not been lucky with finding an open shop on route. So we search the cupboards for what we have to make a meal. We are in luck and can make Dahl. Although in this weather it is not the meal you would choose, it is still tasty and filling. Mabel eats yogurt, just yogurt, and some more yogurt.

When we have finished our diner, Mabel and I head along the path leading us to the left. The sun warms our backs as we stroll. We spot hares lying in the evening sun and dandylion clocks with increasing shadows. The breeze picks up as we get closer to the water and is most welcome. We walk to the water edge, inspect a canon there, and then head back to the van to prepare for bed.

With Mabel asleep, the sun begins to slowly set causing the sky to change from blue to Turkish delight in colour. As the evening comes to a close, we are sung to sleep by a chorus of frogs. All in all I’d say not a bad start for our wandering travels through the Neverlands.

 

“This is not my city, we are from the Netherlands and everything there is less grey”

“This is not my city, we are from the Netherlands and everything there is less grey”

This was what we were told when we were setting off into Antwerp for the day by a man on the site we were on.

We drove into the Netherlands the next day, and Liz found us a cracking free overnight overlooking a busy estuary north east of Antwerp.

”Bollocks” I said “It’s all a bit of national pride and one up man ship, it all looks and feels the same to me”

Well since then, we’ve spent two nights on a fruit farm , a night looking out to sea around Zeeland, and two (free) nights about 4km from Rotterdam.

Liz and I chatted about it today, and you know what, it does feel different. You never quite know what the Dutch might say. They have an odd eccentricity which seems somehow michevious, like that glint a naughty child has in their eye before they are, well…… naughty.

Belgium, as I said, was great, and I really loved Ghent. In truth, we raced through the place, and this is something we are already learning, that we need to slow down and see places a bit more.

It’s not fair of me to generalise about an entire country of which I have virtually no experience of, but that man, I think, was right. This place already feels a bit more spontaneous, a bit more colourful as he said. I like that.

We took a stroll around Rotterdam today, we walked around an enormous indoor market where people have apartments on the upper levels, mooched about the cube houses designed by Piet Blom and built in the early 80’s, went along the river and took in the views of the erasmus bridge and de Rotterdam, had lunch by a little pond (which Mabel poked with a stick, of course!) and cycled back through the old city.

One thing that does stand out to me is the feeling that things happen in other countries that aren’t profit making, but for the good and the wellbeing of those living there. Immediately in Belgium, all the pavements were lined with freshly pollarded trees, not one or two, but whole rows, street after street. The towns feel cleaner in every sense, and public places just feel better cared for, and respected by those that move around it.

Rotterdam’s story was slightly different in so much as most of it was bombed in the war, but it feels like since then they have done things here, because it feels right, or looks good, or pushes a boundary, or just makes sense.

We’ve been parked up for a couple of nights on it’s outskirts in a place called Schiedam. We’re obviosly in an area which is not too affluent, and yet I look out (as do the locals) onto an immaculate canal, not a shopping trolly in sight. There are old windmills dotted along the way, the town within a few hundred meters walk, kids mucking about on grassy spaces…….

I started this trip to see how others did things, and I’m pleased already to be able to say, differently.

Belgium; starting our travels

It is a week today that we left the safety of a house, got in our van, and headed off to explore continual Europe. We are now sitting in the shade of our van in an camperplaats set within an orchard in the Netherlands. We are in Zeeland to be more specific. The last few days have been blazing sunshine and it is nice to know that we will stay here and rest for a couple of nights.

We set off last Monday not knowing what our adventure would entail. And actually we are still learning as we go. What we have learnt is that there is a leak in the bathroom and our fridge doesn’t get anything cold. Oh, and a warm gin and tonic just isn’t what it should be.

It has only been a week, though, and I keep reminding myself to just be in the moment. That is what this is all about for me. I have always felt a need for a planing, for having a plan, and still find myself clinging to this. But I am getting better at being more free of routine as each day passes. I do still like to think ahead to where we will be staying the next night, but am happy to change and move with where each day takes us and what mood we are in (or what needs we have, like a washing machine).

The first couple of nights were spent in campsites (aka fields) in the UK. They were pleasant enough and served the purpose for us making our way to Dover. Mabel even made friends with a couple of pet sheep on the second night at the place we stayed, so she was pretty happy about that.

Wednesday morning we found ourself at Dover in good time. We pulled into the port, and positioned ourselves in the allotted queue For boarding the Pride of Brittany.

The crossing was choppy. This seemed to make it all the more fun for Mabel to thus run up and down the aisles, smiling at the other passengers whether they smiled back or just looked green. We drove straight out of Calais and headed to Belgium. We stayed in a little town called Gistel for the night. It was just a stopover more than anything else, the next day we planned to visit Bruges. We did purchase some delicious pastries to brighten up an evening of sitting in a carpark behind a sport centre, though. 

Thursday morning we headed in the direction of Bruges and parked just on the outskirts in a place called Damme. It was a serene cycle ride of 20 minutes from there along a picturesque canal into Bruges city centre. And what a pretty city we found. I loved looking up at all the architecture and different roof lines. We ate sandwiches in the main square and wandered about tiny cobbled streets for a couple hours before heading back to the van and driving to Eeklo to spend the night.

From Eeklo (in which we parked down by the harbour with strange statues along the bank keeping watch overnight), we heading to Ghent. Ghent was again another historically picturesque city in its centre. The outskirts felt more modern and young then Bruges though. We stayed by a boating lake, our view from the windscreen of rowers passing by with concentration and determination. 

Ghent city centre, like Bruges, was full of canals lined by cobbled streets and interesting architecture. We also found people just seemed to leave there bikes unlocked and lying around any where. So many people cycle around here and the infrastructure is great for getting around on bike so it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t.

  

As the afternoon was turning to evening Mabel feel asleep in her c airier on my back. So we spotted a tiny alleyway off a Main Street that lead to a bar by the canal. We spent a lovely hour or so here sat by the canal as the sun moved its light around the corner of the building drinking local Belgium beer (the bar staff asking if we meant tourist local or proper local we went for proper and weren’t disappointed).

Saturday morning we cycled into Ghent again but just wandered about aimlessly. Well, actually we were looking for markets I had read about but the two we found turned out to be little more than a few stall holders with general tat – not the artisan markets I was expecting! So we left in the afternoon and headed towards Antwerp.

We parked just off the motorway in an Aire and a security guard there told us there was a beautiful park not far we could walk to. And it really was a beautiful park. On such a sunny day, we walked in the dappled shade of large planted trees, sat by a small pond full of huge fish, and there were ducks and deer and goat for Mabel to admire. 

Sunday morning we had banana pancakes, a tasty treat and so easy to make, before cycling into the city centre. The harbour was under a large amount of construction so I cannot tell you if it would have been lovely, but I think it has more of an industrious purpose, or did and is now being gentrified. But the history centre was lively with a (this time good) market with live music and street food. We stayed for lunch and then decided it was only going to get hotter in a city and to head out towards the coast.

This brings us to near were we are now. We parked in a free stopover last night by the waterways and are now sat quietly in a camperplaats with wifi, showers and washing machine. And life is pretty good for now…. while we wander.

Belgium, so far

Belgium, so far

I like Belgium. It’s been great to us as a feed into being in Europe. The people seem pleasant, everyone seems to speak a bit of English, the beer is great stuff, and in our case, the weather has been sublime.

We ended up rearranging our ferry to leave on the weds in the end, so had to make a small change to our first day in Belgium. Instead of heading straight for Bruges, we stopped off at a little overnight spot in a small town called Gistel. Not only our first night abroad, but our first free stopover, and we camped in a little designated space behind the towns leasiure centre. Not very glamours, it was a bit rainy too, but we found some apple tarts in the local patisserie, that more than made up for the view and the weather.

After a pretty decent nights sleep, and breakfast/packdown, we headed off to another freebie. Parking at a small space near Damme, about 8km from Bruges. We unpacked the bikes, and set off down the most amazing tree lined canal, with the  bluest sky I’ve seen this year. It’s not far away geographically, but spring certainly feels a bit further on than the uk. The leaves here are that amazing green you get in early spring, which mixed with the warm weather, and the lack of objective makes for the perfect start to our trip (oh, and there were bikes!)

Bruges was great, with some fantastic architecture and worth a visit if you’ve never been, especially with it being so close!

After the ride back, we headed off in the direction of Ghent, and stayed in an aire which looked out onto a few moorings at a marina in Eeklo. It was fine, but that was all really.

In the morning I took a stroll down to the local bakers for some pastries, they where nothing special, but I did pass one of the best looked after properties I’ve Seen in ages. A superb place, tiled frontage, with the squarest cut box hedges…… fab.

Back in the van, and 35 mins later we arrived in Ghent. Liz and I both really liked Ghent, Bruges is pretty, but full of (bloody) tourists, Ghent felt more like someone could actually live there. Lots of pretty waterside views, canals, and bridges. Mabel took a nap, which allowed Liz and I the chance to sample some of the local beers, which as expected were great, though, with getting back on the bike with Mabel in mind, I did pass up their 10.45% Brew! Alcoholic gravey?

We’re now set up on the side of the rowing lake in the town, watching the sun set, having another beer, and feeling very lucky, the stress of the last few months already seems to be distancing, even with a toddler who is refusing to go to bed, and will likely outlast Liz and I tonight!

Antwerp tomorrow, which we are both looking forward to, then probably chilling at a proper campsite for a few days to unwind (get pissed)

We’ve left!

We’ve left!

Today was quite a different day to all the other landmark days on the run up to beginning this trip.

I’ve said to Liz quite a few times something along the lines of “well, its happening now!” When we put the house on the market, when we bought the van, when we emptied our house out, but today was a different kind of real.

There are many sacrifices we need to make to allow ourselves this trip, but before we cut everything right back, we’ve allowed ourselves one more treat, a night in a field just outside Bracknell!

We’re heading for Dover (the treats just keep coming) for our Wednesday crossing to Calais, and then off up into Belgium to begin proper our trip.

The last few weeks since finishing work have been super busy. Today was a bit of A line in the sand for me. I actually sat and had a little play with Mabel without feeling like once she was in bed I could get on with my jobs list, and of course the guilt of thinking that in the first place. I’m sat in the van, with nothing better to do than write this tedious post, and wonder if I’ll have a third cup of tea before bed.

 

And Why Not

And Why Not

“And why not”

My actual text message may have been longer than this ( I tend to be a bit wordy when writing – apologies readers!). But that was the general gist of it when Craig asked if he thought we could actually do what we’d discussed last night; selling the house, buying a camper van, and traveling with a toddler around Europe.

His message back was much more succinct, “Fuck it. Let’s do it.”

So here we are with 5 weeks to go. We have been through so many ups and downs and twists and turns with the process of getting to this point. But I think my original feelings for this trip stay intact.

Craig is going into this journey searching for something, I believe. Myself, on the other hand, I want to be open to all the experiences we have. To experience the present, each moment, and see what it brings and what I can do with it at the time.

I don’t really have any expectations. It’s probably better that way. I know that things will be hard at times, I imagine very hard at times traveling with a toddler. But then I think this will make the amazing moments shine even more brightly, especially with a toddler.

We spoke the other night about why we never travelled before when we were younger. In all honesty, I don’t think we were interested or ready at that time. I think in a way, Mabel has been a catalyst for this journey. She has certainly opened my eyes to seeing the world afresh, living in the moment, and taking things more slowly. She has made us brave. And our coming adventure will need bravery.

I think this journey will be all things; exciting, challenging, and beautiful. I am looking forward to all these aspects and how they shape us while we wander…

– Liz

Where to start

“So, I was thinking, um, maybe we should go and live in Lisbon.”

“What?”

“Lisbon, in portugal.”

“Yes I know where it is.”

“Well, I thought we should go and live there.”

“What!? Why?”

“Well I read this article online, and it said Lisbon was really cool and there’s lots of creative people there, and I thought we should go and do that.”

“Have you ever been to portugal?”

“No.”

“Can you speak portuguese?”

“No, you know i can’t.”

“Hmmmmm”

 

Liz basically shut me down there and then. Until the next day….

 

“So, I was thinking again, we should live in norway.”

“Norway?”

“Yeah, Norway.”

“I thought you wanted to live in Lisbon?”

“Yeah I did, but I read this article in the guardian today and it said Norway was amazing! Great education, amazing social infrastructure, outdoors lifestyle, what’s not to like?”

“Have you ever been to nor……”

“No! You know I haven’t. What’s your point?”

 

This went on for weeks.

 

Weeks and weeks and weeks.

 

“Did you know in Denmark” this,

“Do you know in Italy they do” that….

“Did you know you can buy a house in France for £35k?”

“But I don’t want to live in france”

“I know, I’m not sure I want to either, but we could be mortgage free!”

We decided we could do something different. We should do something different, but i’m not a brave person, never have been.

Liz, well she’s braver than me.

We talked for a few more evenings about travel, europe, motorhomes. Bloody motorhomes! I’ve never been into motorhomes!

After a few days, the house was on the market, and so the plan to wander began.

With a hope to just be, to get out of mortgage repayments, the depression of my pathetic 1% pension, the crippled nhs, fucking brexit, and all the stuff that makes you think aarrrggghhhhh, even if it doesn’t change your day  to day life very much.

For me, to get out of this country and look for another way is so appealing. To do something different, to find a place where an individual’s measure is something other than wealth, or even better, no measure at all. Maybe a new place to raise our little one? Who knows.

A chance to be….happier.

We bought our hymer in September, from a great guy who had spent a year travelling around Spain, Ibiza and Morocco with his partner. He seemed so relaxed, friendly, receptive. I want to be those things.

After a pile up on the m6 on our way home, and 3 hr tailbacks, I lurched into town. We’d been on the road since 7am, and it was now 10pm. I’m used to riding a motorbike, so parking our 6 meter long 2.5 meter wide van was a crap effort, but I’d already had a good feeling about our future home.

Fast forward a bit, and we’re now living with my parents. I have three weeks of work left, and six weeks until we leave the uk. The van is back from being mechanically sorted (though the brakes are a shambles, and going back next week to be fixed (again). We have some fettling to do (upholstery, electrics, soldering, floor laying to name but a few. All skills i’m about to acquire in the coming week or so – thanks youtube).

The logistics and admin to being ‘free’ are seemingly endless, and not at all how I imagined them to be, but the goal is nearing, and it, along with my wife and our youngster, and great parents ( thanks) are helping to keep a positive spin on all the potential pitfalls we encounter.

We are getting close, and the blog is beginning. I’ve never written, I doubt it’ll be much good to be honest, but the pictures will be amazing so stick with it.

– Craig