Trollstigen

Trollstigen

“And this is the trollstigen” I say, waiting for the page to load on my phone so I can show my cycling mates.

They all acknowledge the image, and my phone goes back on the table as I carry on selling them my pipe dream.

That was last year as I was cycling in the alps. This trip was just beginning to become a reality. The house went on the market after I returned from France, and there was a chance that I meant what I said  back in bourg st Maurice.

366 days later, I take Mabel’s seat off the back of my bike, give the chain a squirt of wd40, swing my leg over the bike and set off. It’s a warm day, but with a stiff breeze blowing. I ride for a while, and though I know the climb is looming, I still cant see it.

The rocks are rising up all around me, the stream tumbling down, and soon I am surrounded, except for 10km of 8%.

I love the foot of a climb. I love the intimidation. Little me is going to go up that huge mountain under my own steam. Am I? I’m not very fit, and it does look steep!

Cars, motor homes, vans and coaches grind their way up the narrow pass, the smell of burning clutches around each hairpin. “Fuck it, its to late now mate, best get on with it!”, I say to myself.

Trollstigen is a wonderful climb. Compact, consistent, and amazing views.

As I near the visitor centre at the top, I briefly allow myself to feel proud; I feel relief, I realise I enjoyed myself, and I get to tank it back down as fast as I can as a reward.

Back at the van, I upload my stats to my garmin account, and in the evening scoff two Daim bars as a little well done to me.

We drove the van up today,

and after we got out to take some snaps at the visitor centre, we climbed back in, and onwards, upwards….eh? hang on, what’s this? It would appear the visitor centre is not at the top of the climb, non?

“Oh for fucks sake” I say to Liz, surrounded by breathtaking scenery. “It doesn’t count”. Liz is looking around thinking of photo opportunities, then we both say almost simultaneously “We could stay here tonight, and travel on tomorrow”

And so it was; I got to do the troll ladder all over again. This time reaching the top.

 

 

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 🙂

Do I smell?

I met up with friends for a cup of tea shortly before we left Devon to begin our trip.

One of them asked me (and I’m Paraphrasing here)

“How will you know if you transition from someone just travelling around, to becoming a stinky hippy?”

“I’m not sure. I don’t know my personal hygiene is that good anyway”

“Maybe you should ask a stranger every month if you smell.”

Well, thanks to the power of the internet, this blog post is actually scratch and sniff. If you gently agitate your screen, you should be engulfed in a heady aroma I may bottle and sell once we return, to help those experience travelling without actually going anywhere.

I’m actually pretty clean today. I took a shower yesterday, we stayed at a campsite for a couple of nights just gone. It was great. Travelling every day does get tiring, and I think we both feel the need to just pause, and stretch out for a day or two. We have an awning which we can use, but only on campsites as wild or free camping doesn’t permit them being up. The awning effectively doubles our living space, and gives us 8m sq of usable empty space. It’s such a treat.

Today we left the campsite and went along the causeway to an island called Romo. We settled on the west side of the island on a vast beach which we drove onto, and parked up on. There are no roads, marked spaces, or signs for areas to avoid, hence a good day of people watching as bewildered drivers literally beached their cars on the soft sand. It was quite fun helping, with a gaggle of other strangers, to push the stricken cars from where they helplessly lay.

There was also plenty of time to enjoy the blazing sunshine (again) take a swim to cool off, and just generally mill about. After Mabel refused to be fully roused from her nap, we decided to leave the beach, though not before unleashing the outdoor shower. The van has a flap in the bathroom from which you can pull out the tap/ shower head and have an outdoor wash. Very nice indeed.

So there you have it, three dousings in two days. Do I smell? Yeah a little bit. But here’s the worrying bit, which I fear is how these things start, do I care……….

The Netherlands. 17 days, 812 miles

The Netherlands. 17 days, 812 miles

Zeeland, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Friesland, Groningen, reads the route we took through Holland. We saw canals, bikes, islands windmills, bikes, canals, bikes, windmills, canals, and bikes.

Holland is an friendly country to spend time in. The cities feel inviting, and very safe, the road infrastructure is brilliantly maintained, easy to navigate, and the people came across as bright and open.

Nearly everyone rides a bike in Holland, and so did we, though we received some funny looks there. As a keen cyclist in the uk, our family of three, on fancy(ish) bikes, and sporting crash helmets couldn’t have stood out more. A helmet in holland must be a beacon for foreigner, as must be a nice bike. In the city, everyone wears their normal clothes, texts whilst they ride, and seem totally unfazed whatever situation they find themselves in, all whilst riding a rusting heap with three speeds and a buckled wheel.

So there I am, with my sports helmet and sunglasses on, riding my road bike looking a bit of a dick, the only thing to save me was Ihad Mabel on the back to help me ‘blend in’ a bit.

As I’ve Mentioned in previous posts (I think) cities are a bit strenuous with a two year old, so sadly again we didn’t get to see as much of them as we would have liked. And I cant say we absorbed vast amounts of culture, as so often stayed outside the cities, or found ourselves in transit. Here it comes, ready….

the Netherlands is flat. So flat. Flatter than a deflated flat thing with a puncture.

At first this seemed mesmerising, “look at that” I’d Say to Liz, pointing at the horizon “you cant imagine anything this flat can you”. Sadly for Liz, her imagination is rather more colourful than mine. Those conversations must have been a trial.

After a while though, it became boring, and then it started to get to me a bit. To the point, that by the end, it was making me feel a bit funny. I have to say, that leaving, not Holland, but the flatness, was a relief for me, and the almost instant forests and subtle undulations offered by Germany was most welcome.

I broadly had a very enjoyable time in Holland; I’d love to go back to Rotterdam and Groningen for a proper look around some time. With so much still water around, be it countryside or city, it felt so relaxed. The architecture was a joy to take in, and the people we met were warm and good fun.

All in all, a thoroughly decent place.

 

“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, 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.

 

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