Tuesday 31 August 2010

Center Parcs, Devon and back to earth ....

Center Parcs was great, various people had said it was great, and we now know they were definitely right!  Action packed, with Zip Wires, Aerial Adventures (ask Pip!), Mini-Fencing, and of course loads of time going down the Rapids (Rabids!!) in the swimming pool.  Really good to catch up with all the family, and never enough just chatting time, but a great three days to nearly finish our trip.

Yesterday we travelled an hour and forty minutes to a fantastic little camp site in Devon from Cairo's "Cool Camping Kids" book (I thought I had all their books already!!), with both Hymers parked up we had a great little camp with a beautiful sea view.  Sergo set out a very impressive Badminton court (taped lines, proper net) and we played appalling badminton and used our Boules set for the first time on tour.  Last night we had a blazing campfire (marshmallows), a fantastic risotto for the grown ups (thanks Sergio) and Carbonara for the kids (thanks Pip) and a really nice last night camping in Velma.

Back down to earth....Tom and I are sitting in Velma in a side street in Exeter waiting for Gin and the girls to come back from the shops where school shoes, skirts, trousers, etc., are being panic bought.  We bailed after M&S which looked like it had been hit by a typhoon.  Looking around the van thinking "all this has to be unpacked, cleaned up, etc.".  After very nearly 6 weeks on the road it is going to be difficult getting "back to normal".

Thursday 26 August 2010

Rainy Kent...

Just got off the Chunnel to the welcome of constant drizzle, Croatias heat and dust seems a very long way away :(.  At least we get a pleasant "re-entry" with a few days at Center Parcs.  Tonights luxury accommodation is to be Fleet Services!!

Spent the day visiting Gins great grandfathers grave in the Ypres Cemetary Extension and then on to Tyne Cot cemetary, the largest Commonwealth War Cemetery.  Very moving and incredible to read the stories in the Visitor Centre at Tyne Cot.  Also incredible how many cemetaries there are in the area and to think about the scale of the destruction and loss of life.  Will leave it to Gin to put it more eruditely!!

Wednesday 25 August 2010

Ypres, Rain, Mud and Pizza

The Menin Gate in Ypres is not the aloof, isolated memorial I expected.  A road runs through it, leading to a street of shops and restaurants.  Cars, buses and lorries drive along this road at a fair speed, people walk through, some shelter under it in the rain, waiting for their lift to arrive - it is part of everyday life.  And every day at 8pm, since 2 July 1928*, a short and simple ceremony has been conducted under the arch - initiated and continued by the people of Ypres, to show their gratitude for those that gave their lives.

Today's ceremony went like this ....

At 7.50pm, three men in immaculate uniform including cap and white gloves and each carrying a highly-polished bugle, linger on the side of the bridge that crosses the river Yser, just short outside the Menin Gate.  They chat quietly amongst themselves and two or three official looking folk greet them and shake their hands in welcome.  There is a surprisingly large crowd gathered, given that is an unimportant Thursday evening in August - all ages including small children, young adults, middle-aged and the elderly, mobile and wheelchair bound, nearly filling the pavements underneath the arch.  Just before 8pm the buglers move from the bridge to a discreet position inside the arch, on the pavement.  The traffic is stopped on either side of the arch at 8pm and the crowd falls silent.  The three buglers move in formation to the centre of the east entrance to the arch and  without looking at each other they play in perfect unison - the familiar notes ring out, the acoustics of the arch amplifying the sound and giving it an unexpected richness of tone.  At the end a two minute silence and then the Ode of Remembrance is recited.  Two groups then lay wreaths - the first a number of men and women in every day clothes and the second a school party in uniform.  The wreaths join 20 or 30 others left by organisations and individuals, all with handwritten messages.

The buglers play once more and then march back to their earlier waiting position under the arch.  Although one feels like clapping to honour their skill it does not feel appropriate.  The ceremony is finished and the burble of the crowd starts up again.  As it dissipates, some are dabbing eyes, others are smiling and talking, by particular names poppies are pushed into the crack between each slab, and photographs are taken.  The buglers talk to the officials and those that wish to offer thanks.  After the crowd has wandered off, the buglers are still there and only when one or two stragglers remain do they leave.

Could witter on for ages but will finish on the walk back from our evening meal to the campsite - some 900m down a cobbled street before turning off on to a footpath through fields.  Pitch dark and pouring rain that some of us are ill-equipped for.  The footpath is full of ankle-deep puddles and pale mud, with the occasional stretch of duck boards to traverse the more boggy bits of the field.  At one point we were single file through a small wood, with Chris and the torch at the front and me at the rear ..... the gap between the last child and I grew larger .... the dark and the rain and the mud and the location was more than a little unsettling and I hurried to catch up with the others. 

One is never too sure how much the children have taken on board but no-one complained about being soggy when we got back to Velma.

Night ....

* during the German occupation in WWII, the ceremony was conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.

For a good bit of background info read the Wikipedia entry on the Menin Gate.

Disneyland again :)

an exhausting three days at Disney was great fun. Really good to catch up with the Higsons, who we first visited Disney with in August 95, yes, before either family involved kids! All the kids and adults had a great time, and there was a whole new area open since we were there a month ago - Toy Story Playland, which was great.

We are now en route to Belgium, hoping to make it to the Menin Gate to here The Last Post at 2000 . Sat nav says we will make it with 30 mins to spare.

Sunday 22 August 2010

weekend in Beaune

A very nice weekend in Beaune. A great value Municipal Campsite, 5 mins cycle to cheap outdoor pool and 2 mins cycle to the 'Caves' where we picked up some nice local wine. The guy even drove me back to the camp as I couldn't balance 30 bottles on my bike :). Done all our washing as we will probably be on 'aires' between now and Center Parcs.

Thunder and lightning this evening so all packed up ready for early start to get to Disney by lunchtime tomorrow , much excitement about meeting up with the Higsons!

Saturday 21 August 2010

Breakfast in Frejus, pre-Aqualand

Motorway "Aires" are pretty good, the one by Frejus we stayed in twice and we had fresh bread for our breakfast and a nice camp spot.

This "crockery"was a 21st present for Ginny from Anna and Claire!!!

Friday 20 August 2010

not exactly Glamping!

so we got to this motorway Aire an hour ago, third night in a row of 'free' camping, although the 50+ euros of tolls today makes me think we are paying one way or another. Over two hours in traffic jams today, but just 10kms tomorrow then a weekend of walking, cycling and wine tasting in Beaune. No driving until Monday morning :)

Having said it is not Glamping it is not too bad. There is lots of shade, we are in a kind of pine woods area, there is a table for us to have breakfast on and loos . At the last one I got fresh baguettes in the morning so hopefully the same here.

Itinerary Page added & Croatian pix page

if you look at the top of the blog there is now an itinerary page and a Croatian pictures page. With over 25 nights on the road we were getting muddled about where we were staying when. We have covered about 5,000kms so far!

How to put a smile on Gins face?

Find an English bookshop in Aix-en-Provence that is just like her dream shop, coffee and home made cakes, etc., I think we may be here some time...

I selected the Lonely Planet Europe guide in Paris (WH Smiths). It is useless, so beware. Lonely planet country guides are great, but the Europe one just skims everything and has not really helped us very much.

Apparently we are driving to Beaune later on, which I reckon is a good 4+ hours from here, but I think I get to do a vineyard tomorrow :) :)

A day in Aqualand (by Pip)

Today was really fun. In the morning we woke up in a French aire just outside Frejus. All of us children were really excited. Even the adults were excited! We had breakfast then we set off straight away. It took around 30 minutes to get there. When we got there the carpark was completely full so we had to park Velma on the grass. When we had got in and got changed we put our stuff in a locker then went and dumped our towels in the picniccy area. Me, tali and tom were the first to go on a waterslide! (it was tiny though). So we went to look for one of the bigger ones. The first big slide we went on was called the snake and it was really fun. Then we went into the big fake beach for a swim. Then we went onto these two rides called - the black hole and the white hole, it was one where you had to sit in a double doughnut ring thing and go down an enclosed slide that was pitch black. Me and mummy went in a double ring down the black hole, tali and jess went in a double ring down the black hole and tom and daddy went in a double ring down the white hole!! They were really fast, dark and curly. After that we went for lunch, we didn’t spend long on lunch cause we wanted to get back to the rides. So after lunch we went and cued up for a ride, me, tali, jess and mummy cued up for the rapids and tom and daddy cued up for the rafting rapids. We cued for about 40 minutes and when you got to the end of the cue you got given a ring by someone who had just finished the ride. It was sooooo bumpy, you went down rocks with gushing water. It was quite scary!! :s After that we went back to the towels for a drink of water and to re-apply sun cream because the sun really was beating down!! (MORE TO BE ADDED I THINK - POSTED BECAUSE WE GOT A CONNECTION)

Tali on the first fast ride
Jess pulled this face on every ride :)
Pip & Tom (look closely)
Tom emerging from a very fast tube solo!
Gin showing how to retain dignity...

Thursday 19 August 2010

midnight border crossing

we left Pisa at 1545 headed towards Frejus. Mid evening we came off the Autostrada and headed for San Remo for supper. It looked great in the dusk but did not present a parking space so we headed on towards the border on the coast road and stopped in Ventimiglia for a late supper.

After supper we continued with the kids dozing and Crossed the border in a tunnel before joining the Autoroute which immediately presented amazing views of Mention followed by Monte Carlo and Nice. We stopped around 1am at an Aire on the Autoroute just outside Frejus ready for the much anticipated visit to Aqualand, where we spent a hot and fun day today. We drove along the Frejus Corniche (had to edit that - my phone kept correcting spelling to Cornish!!!) hoping to find a parking spot by the beach to cook supper, but eventually came back to the same spot as it is free and surprisingly pleasant.

I am the last one awake so will sign off now. Cheers, Chris

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Pisa - now that's magic!

we are sitting poolside at our campsite awaiting the start of the 2115 magic show - running to Italian time as it is 2130! Oh, it is starting, more later :)

A few more pictures

Three Ladies on Venice on Pips Birthday :)

Talia Snorkelling in Croatia = looking good :)
Jess impersonating the diver in Finding Nemo - P Sherman!!!

Classy Coffee on the move

Our Presso coffee machine has drawn approving glances on a number of sites, and I had to give demonstrations in the last camp site for a Dutch guy who was determined he was going to add one to his kit list :)  It has been used at least once on almost every day, bar just one or two, so pretty impressive, and a great start to the day - cheers Ant and Lucy!!

Sunday 15 August 2010

Velma on the move again...

well after a very relaxing few days in the small town of Bol on the Croatian island of Brac we are now en route to Split to catch a ferry to Ancona tonight.

We met up with a lovely family at our campsite and their daughter was our guide to the beach and then a much needed new play pal to join in the card games of an evening. The Croatian red wine went down so well we ran out and had to resort to the Spanish wine box out of Velmas boot - thank goodness Lesley left it with us at Glastonbury - thank you!

We are currently on the short ferry trip from Brac to Split. The "Terror Trip" back across the island was not nearly as bad as anticipated, but Gin did spot even more car wrecks and some people at a roadside shrine! We went up to the highest point on the island which is the highest point of all the Adriatic Islands and had a fantastic birds eye view of Bol, the Golden Horn and our camp site. Photos to follow as usual!

Saturday 14 August 2010

Some thank yous ....

These are delayed as we had every intention of taking photos to post with the thanks but two weeks on and this still hasn't happened!

Sharon's box of magic has sat in the centre of the dashboard for the entire journey so far, rescuing us so many times - the jotters and pens for journals and essential shopping lists, the string for washing lines, the Magic Tree smelly thing saved us from smelly drains in the onboard ensuite, the Skittles for teasing out the children (tomorrow we'll open them, tomorrow etc etc) - they lasted until Slovenia!  (Ssh - don't tell Pip we ate the jelly babies!)  And the birthday candles for Pip were used at the Hard Rock Cafe in Venice - looking very fine in a piece of cheesecake! 

Sally's wonderful bags are excellent camera cases and used every day - their distinctive pattern makes them easy to find in the daily wail of where is my .......

The Nicki money has been dipped into and so far bought a clapper board for videos - will post an example later of the budding de Milles' work. 

Various people for various books that have all come in useful along the way.  Sounds like we've been on an epic trek rather than only 3 weeks so far but hey, it's beyond Helston!

After a ferry to Italy tomorrow our nose will be pointed homewards ...

Tom can drive a Godola!!!

Duck Mr Man, there is a bridge coming up :)

The SPARs of Europe!

We've been collecting the various names of Spar …. France and Austria it is just Spar, Germany is Eurospar, Croatia is Interspar but the prize for the best Spar so far is Trieste, Italy – DESPAR! Entirely appropriate for that evening, if only missing an 'I'.

Chronology is over-rated – Trieste 9/10 August

We left Camp Fusina in Venice at just after 1800 – and stopped 100 yards down the road to finish the delicious pizza from its cafe. We were aiming for Slovenia but wanted to stop as close to the Italian side of the border as we could – Trieste seemed like a good destination as it had a choice of at least three aires/stellplatzes that we could park up in.

The first one we found on the map next to a campsite but although we could see it we couldn't find the entrance. We found ourselves, not for the first time, driving through a campsite we had no intention of being in but they are usually a bit of a one way route and once you've stuck your nose in you are committed to completing a circuit or finding a place to turn around as sneakily as possible. Hard to be subtle in a 3.4m high, 6.5m long bus. Chris has mastered the three point turn – it's impressive.

The second one looked perfect – lots of vans, including a junior version of Velma, which we now count as a good sign – like-minded people and all that. One circuit of the aire looking for a space and something didn't seem quite right. Going around again we realised that not one of the vans had any interior lights on and dusk had definitely fallen. And none of the vans had any vents open – a sure sign that they are unoccupied as the heat means any airflow is vital. After that we couldn't leave quickly enough – it was creepy as anything.

Down the hill towards Trieste, another sign showing the comforting picture of a campervan …. not illustrating the half a mile single track 1/10 hill that appeared round the corner. Up we went ….. three point turn and down we came again, hoping we wouldn't meet someone similar on the way as we would probably still be in a standoff now.

Along the road another aire, with one van occupied yet several others clearly abandoned for some time, judging by the foliage that had grown around the wheels. We kept moving lest the triffids have a hunger for British wheels.

Nothing for it but to dive down in to Trieste. It looks beautiful in the dark from the top of the long and very winding road that leads to it – a glowing city, curved around a wide bay, dotted with anchored ships, their lights twinkling. As the road wound its way down it got more and more built up. First, houses behind walls and then bigger and bigger apartment blocks lining the streets. Each side of the road was full of cars but in the dwellings again there was very little sign of life, and it was still only about 2130 on a summer, albeit Monday, evening. No-one on the streets, no lights on in the buildings and very little traffic. Every now and then there would be someone in the shadows or under a streetlamp, just standing there or talking in to a mobile phone. The architecture was very 'eastern bloc' – hard, forbidding, plain buildings, many of them with the grubbiness that London buildings used to have. And then a change in the buildings and feel of the city – the centre of the city has wide six-lane thoroughfares with neo-classical architecture, gracefully laid out. One large square looked like any in the West End of London. The road swung round to the seafront – a wide promenade on one side and impressive buildings and parks on the left, with a concert going on in one of the open areas. Tempted to park but no space apparently available. The satnav was set for the last aire in the area …. and we found it eventually. All tired, hot and snappy and the last space available – the only way we would ever have countenanced stopping and sleeping where we did – the aire was under a flyover!

Friday 13 August 2010

golden horn beach

we made it at last to the Golden Horn beach! Pip found it whilst googling Croatia at school when she should have been doing something else and she was determined we would get here. Me and the kids got dragged round the bay in a kind of floating sofa behind a speedboat :), photo perhaps to follow.

This is a bit of a test from mobile, so will sign off now in case it doesn't work!

Love Croatia-HATE Mosquitos

Croatia is lovely but the mosquitos are a nightmare.

I like the campsite we are pitched in. They are very friendly. The beaches are beautiful and today we are going to hopefully visit the Golden Horn/Zlatni rat.
On Sunday we are going to leave Croatia behind and head home via Pisa, frejus , Disney and other places.

Hope you like th pictures,
Jess :)

Tricky traveling....plans, sort of, comments on value for money

Croatias roads give some astounding views and are often terrifying for all concerned.  We are giving Velma a rest as we had clutch smoke and brake fade yesterday on the hills and trying to get into a camp site.  We have found a fabulous and very friendly campsite (thank goodness for Gin's pigeon German).  We are by the Golden Horn beach on teh island of Brac off Split.

Hoping to get Gin and the girls to Hvar Island as foot passengers and me and Velma go back over the island and cross to Split and then get on a Split to Ancona ferry, which calls in at Hvar.  This avoids the "terror trip" being repeated and gets us into the middle of Italy.  The (very) loose plan is then to go across to Pisa and then up to Monaco, Frejus and onwards to Disney to rendezvous with the Higsons (Kev - prepare yourself, Disney is eye wateringly expensive, I know you have been before, but this is breathtaking - we will be shoppign before we get there and smuggling in rations!!!).

Value for Money - we were glad we started in France, it felt really expensive and everything since has become better value for money.  We have had nights for free everywhere (including France to be fair), and nights of luxury (swimming pools, etc.).  So far these few days in Croatia feel the best overall, but lots more to come yet.

Some random pix

Tom at Venice Lido

Talia & Jess at Venice Lido

Sunrise over Venice, pic taken from our van door....

Camp 1 in Croatia - beach just yards away :)

Some images from Freiburg in Germany - they have Kennels like Helston!!

Tom Croatia update

We went to lots of beaches and I went swimming with Daddy with flippers and I went on my body board everywhere with my sisters. Then we had to go back to the campsite very near suppertime and we had barbecue and after that I had a Twix bar and then we watched a movie and then I went to sleep on the top bunk. The next day I didn´t go in the sea because we were leaving very
soon. When we left it took a couple of hours to get to the ferry and then we got on to the island called Brac and the next day we went on the beach and we did lots of things on the beach. I dived under the water and got my hair wet, I went on the body board and used the flippers and then the body board a bit more. Dictated by Tom!

Ramblings of the early riser :)

This site in Venice is amazing, but their wifi is a bit rubbish! Will try to get some photo's up on the blog soon.

Camping Fusina (Google for other peoples pix) is just superb. Very Italian, as in randomly organised, but great fun. We are pitched about 50m from the bank of the lagoon with a clear view of Venice across the lagoon. We have stayed 3 nights and are leaving this evening. On Friday evening/night and again this morning enormous cargo ships glide by with just a low rumble, briefly blotting out the view completely. I can't believe how close they are, again, pix will follow.

We had an afternoon on the beach yesterday, caught a ferry just outside the gate of the campsite, 40 minutes ride around the outside of Venice to the Lido. The Adriatic kept all entertained all afternoon, although a couple of minor jellyfish stings were suffered.

Anyway, I am supposed to be getting TomTom maps for Slovenia/Croatia and failing so will sign off and grab croissants. Hopefully get the maps from a more reliable wifi/internet cafe in Venice a bit later.

Cheers, Chris

Sunday 8 August 2010

Pips birthday in Venice

Today was THE best day of the whole holiday so far!!!! i think everyone in the family would agree i definately thought it was!!!! We went into Venice for my birthday. In the morning we went and caught a ferry to Venice which took about 15 minutes. When we got there we looked around and saw some shops that had some really cool Venetian masks and some venetian hats. We crossed lots of bridges and each time admired the Gondolas. When we were all quite hungry we sat down on some steps in a square, but me and jess got kind of put of by the manky pigeons hopping around really close to us!! after lunch we walked around a bit moresearching for some Gelato ice cream! :P
After the ice cream the temperature suddenly increased by a lot and we were all very thirsty so we went looking for somewhere to have a drink. on the way to a place called Harrys Bar that daddy had found to go for for a drink daddy spotted a Hard Rock Cafe which we then decided to go to for my birthday supper!! But when we got to harrys bar it was way way way to expensive..... i meen 9 euros for a coke now thats a rip off!!! So we went to find somewhere a bit more reasonable in price! Eventually we went to a little cafe on the side of the Grand Canal which i cant remember the name of... Where we all got a refreshing drink, we stayed there for about an hour and a half. Whilst we were there we completely changed our holiday plans by deciding that after venice we will be going down to Rome and Pisa and then catching a car ferry across the dubrovnick (in croatia). Then after a lot of umming and aaring mummy and daddy decided that we were aloud to go on a Gondola!!! WAHAY!!! So we walked to the Hard Rock Cafe where there was a Gondola docking station place where we got on a Gondala for about 40 minutes it was super super fun!!! Then after the ride we went into the Hard Rock and sat down at a table for supper. i had a burger and chips!! mmmm healthy!!! but it was really yummy! Then for pudding we ordered a chocolate fudge brownie with cream and ice cream to share and daddy had a piece of cheesecake!! We had a really nice waiter who put our candles in the piece od cheescake and lit them and then all the staff in the Cafe sung me happy birthday and so did the customers in the cafe!!! it was really nice of them but quite embarassing for me!!! Then after we had eaten dessert and paid we went down to the shop and got a martini glass for me which came free with my drink!!! its so cool!! then we went to go and see if the shops were open to buy some presents for certain people.... e.g daisy and bryher!! but the shops were shut but dont panic we are going in again the day after tomorrow so will definately be getting them then!! We then waited for an hour to get on a ferry back to the campsite. Overall today has been the best day of the holiday so far!!

Tali Venice Update

Vebice is amazing! It is so hot,and it stays hot all night. We arrived right in the middle of a thunderstorm! Where we are camping is technically in Italy but from our pitch you can see Venice opposite the sea!

Thursday 5 August 2010

A day of driving through the rain...

Hello Fellows
Today we have done a lot of driving. (132km) When we left this morning it was tipping it down with rain, and it hasn't stopped since. We were planning on visiting King Ludwig's Castles but there was a queue over an hour long and you had to walk 45 minutes between the castles. It was still raining so we got some nice pictures and carried on driving.

[ Nice picture of Ludwig's Castle ]

We got some amazing views as we drove the countryside way through the Alps. There were times where only bollards and rotten wood were stopping us from tumbling down the mountainside. We visited Lech again. The last time we went there was thick,thick snow but this time it was grass and rain.

[ Picture of us in front of Hotel Alexandra]


[Picture of the Bus stop]
Caption: * Where's the bus stop *

We are now at the camp site where we have had an Italian supper of Pizza and Spaghetti Bolognaise
(SpagBol Courtesy of Mummy, Pizza take-away.)
We have just been swimming for 2 hours in the campsites pool where we did diving in the really deep pool.

Jess :D


Tali Update 2

Since we have begun our trip we have stayed in lots of different places, from lay-bys to stellplatz ( not a camp site but a place where camper vans are legally allowed to stay varying degrees of organisation some with facilities eg. Washing up,showers etc) from stellplatz to campsites with 2 swimming pools! My favourite camp site so far has been the camp site in Port'land which had two swimming pools, one indoor one outdoor both heated, the outdoor pool had three slides two wavy ones and one curled one. So far we have seen five landmarks : the Eiffal Tower, the Notre Dame, the Pompidou, Luvre and the Musee Dorsee. At the moment we are staying at a stellplatz in Germany by the Lake Constance.

Tom Blog 1

We went to Disneyland. And I went on the peter pan ride first. I also went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. I was a bit scared. If you go there I hope you have fun.