Van Talk 1

We became owners of our first campervan in 2008, after years of travelling Europe with tents. The transition was not down to dislike of tent camping- far from it, so reluctant was I to give up sleeping in a tent that we continued to take a tent for a while especially for sleeping purposes. And I do still hanker after that wonderful feeling of drifting off to sleep with a cool breeze wafting through the fabric of a tent, although nowadays getting up off a squishy, inflatable mattress would be likely to cause more difficulty than it did years ago!

We were in Croatia, staying on the island of Korcula. We’d arrived late and had to pitch up in the dark then cook a meal by lantern light outside. The space we’d been allocated was only just large enough for our tent and it had been a tricky operation. That same trip, we’d survived thunderstorms without as much as a drop of rain penetrating the tent walls, but on the Korcula site, next door to us, a VW campervan with a pop-up roof was parked. We got to thinking how simple it was to park up and hook up. How much more of the year we’d be able to travel. We were sold on the idea of a van.

We got our first van from Ebay, a VW lovingly converted for a project, by someone in Sussex. At this point we’d very little idea of what to expect from a van and how things might work. As it turned out, the conversion, whilst pretty, was neither practical nor efficient. There was no means of accessing the front [cab] of the van from the rear. There was nowhere to stash a porta-potty [essential for us!] except the worktop area! Just imagine- we had to perch on the portaloo on the top of the worktop- a proper throne indeed!

Worst of all though, as we discovered on a trip to Agen, France, the home-made, blue, vinyl roof leaked. This was a shock, after our watertight experiences of the tent. I was horrified when, during a thunderous deluge when pitched up by the beautiful River Lot, we were woken by rain inside the van. We wound up having to use an umbrella over our heads inside, which is a comical image to recollect now but was no laughing matter at the time.

We took the van to a conversion expert, who made a wonderful [if expensive] job of installing a new, purpose made pop-up roof and side access cupboards, sink and cooker, enabling us to move around all of the van and, importantly, have somewhere to perch on the portaloo. Thereafter we travelled all over the place, in all kinds of weather. When we were ready for a little more comfort and some additional facilities we sold it on to a couple who wanted it for weekends away. Husband, especially, mourned its passing bitterly. But the time had come.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

The Travelling Sofa of 2020

We must not complain. It’s been my silent mantra this year. Be glad we are safe, well and adequately fed, live in a lovely home in a pleasant place. Nevertheless this has been the first year for almost thirty years we haven’t crossed the water to Europe and set off, meandering with no fixed plans and half an eye on the weather forecast.

We have, in fact holidayed during 2020. Way back in February, in what seems like a century ago we took the plunge and went off on our pre-booked, long-haul, winter sun trip to Thailand, to Koh Samui. We deliberated, yes, worried, yes, took advice, yes-and then went, carrying face masks, hand gel and all the paraphernalia we have subsequently become accustomed to. It was tricky; hot, suffocating queueing in Bankok airport wearing masks, but now I look back and am so glad we braved it. Our ten days was wonderful, with no virus on Koh Samui, everything relaxed and easy.

In the summer we were able to get away to UK destinations in our camper van, starting with a cautious outing locally, down the coast to Osmington near Weymouth. We became more confident and travelled to Suffolk for a couple of weeks, looking at a part of the UK we are unfamiliar with. Later on we stayed in Cornwall, the sites busy but safe so that the trip felt almost ‘normal’. All these trips are documented on Anecdotage in previous posts.

We have not planned any travel for 2021. Unlike many, I’m not expecting a miraculous transformation of our viral fortunes just because it’s a new year. We are consistently [and annoyingly] reminded that ‘the virus doesn’t recognise Christmas’ so why should it then recognise that the date has changed?

Instead I’ve daydreamed, ogled at and imagined all the places I’d still love to go, as yet unvisited or fond favourites we’ve returned to many times. Here then, in no particular order is my list.

New to us

* Canada. We went to Canada for a few hours, once, walking across the border at Niagara from the USA. Perhaps we’ve watched too many snowy landscaped serial killer thrillers [including the excellent ‘Cardinal’] during lockdown, but I feel myself drawn to those vast frozen expanses and opportunities to see bears and whales. A rail trip through the Rockies would make a wonderful addition to a visit, too!

*Likewise, Iceland. Without the polar bears and whales but with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights, perhaps. Scandinavia has been another source of serial killer TV entertainment this year, with Iceland’s own, bleak contributions.

*Santorini. I’ve visited many of Greece’s gorgeous islands, but have still to set foot on Santorini, with its towering cliffs and nearby volcano. I believe it does suffer from heavy tourist footfall but this does not prevent me dreaming about standing and taking in those views with a stunning sunset.

*St Petersburg. I may be basing my desire to see St Petersburg on screenings of films like Dr Zivago, but portrayals of this iconic city look impossibly romantic.

*Rorke’s Drift. I’d like to visit this site, famous for a battle during the Zulu wars, for personal reasons. An uncle on my mother’s side of our family won the VC at the battle, for defending the place [which was a hospital and stores]. He is depicted in the film, ‘Zulu’. I’ve little interest in safari holidays, but this is a part of Africa that tempts me. I’d also be excited to go to the Victoria Falls, of course!

*In due course, the USA may become visitable again, now that a sensible choice of president has been made. I’d love to see southern states and also to explore more of the East Coast.

Old Favourites

*The Italian Lakes. In 2019 we made a late summer trip to Lakes Lugano, Como, Iseo, Garda and Maggiore. Every lake was sheer magic, each with its own character and features. Each lake was a wrench to leave-until we arrived at the next. The lakes are like a siren call, with their beguiling sunsets and abundance of art. Let me at them!

*Croatia. A stunning, unbeatable coastline and islands. And Dubrovnik is one of my favourite European cities. Then there is Plitvice-a world heritage lake site with astonishing waterfalls, an unforgettable experience.

*Romania. Strictly speaking it isn’t an old favourite, as we whisked through on our return from the Greek mainland, but the brief glimpses we got made me long to go back and explore properly. Transylvania next time!

*South West France. We’ve spent more holiday time here than anywhere else, so much that there is nowhere from Bordeaux to the Spanish border we havent been! But it is beautiful and feels like home each time we go.

There are countless more places-places I only visit on my travelling sofa. I can’t complain. Until we are set free again I’ll continue to sofa-travel-and maybe you, reader can achieve some sofa-trips of your own? Have a Happy New Year in whatever way you are able!

The Wild Frontier

Last time we made the long trek to Croatia we were still using a tent, which means it was very many years ago. It seemed intrepid then, to go so far; but although the roads were basic the camp sites were beautiful, the people welcoming and the produce wonderful.

There are still hundreds of roadside stalls selling local fruit and vegetables and home-made concoctions but Croatia has developed a great deal since our previous visit, with efficient roads, signs and facilities in abundance. Having previously stayed on a few islands and seen Dubrovnik we chose to go to the Unesco site of Plitvicka, an area of outstanding natural beauty with lakes and waterfalls. At this time of year, with the snow-melt water cascading down everywhere under a faultless blue sky it was spectacular, exceeding all expectations and only marred [as the day grew later] by the hoards of selfie-takers, tablet-snappers and those who consider themselves ‘serious’ photographers in that they must use a tripod for every shot. There were also, near the end of our chosen trail a number of coach parties, mainly Japanese-some of whom had chosen to wear face-masks for their day out, an inexplicable sight in the pristine environment of Plitvicka.

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Next day we were off early, continuing through the inland part of the country which is quiet and beautiful, a backdrop of mountains and occasional lakes but precious little tourism. All tourists want Croatia’s coast [which, to be fair is dramatic and beautiful, too]. Then we were back on the coastal highway ourselves, spending our last night in Croatia in a small, seaside village and enjoying an uproarious evening with another British couple, sitting outside by the Adriatic, the sound of the waves an accompaniment.

We sped off again in the morning, south towards Montenegro, a new country for us. At the border we bought our obligatory motor insurance-fifteen euros for a scruffy scrap of paper-, made deferential noises at the officials and set off towards Budva, whose alleged reputation as a mini version of Dubrovnik is a little exaggerated. In all of the books, websites and information that we’ve amassed there are no places whatsoever mentioned in Montenegro so all we had was a dubious site I’d discovered on the internet somewhere around the back of town, the location of which we’d programmed into Mrs Tom-Tom with more hope than confidence.

‘700mtrs’ said Mrs Tom-Tom as we stopped in the first car park we found. 700 meters to the camp? In the midst of the city?

We drove towards it. I spotted the edge of a caravan between the houses of the street. We drove round the corner and through a gateway and parked under the olive trees. Yes, it was basic. No, not everyone would have wanted to use the shower [although it was clean]. But it was a twenty minute walk from the old, walled town of Budva and best of all it was safe and secure.

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While Budva cannot hope to compete with Dubrovnik it is nevertheless a pleasant and attractive old town. having strolled through the narrow alleyways and visited the ‘Citadela’ we found a seaside bar, bought a beer and sat to watch Budva’s population enjoying the evening sun. What would our next day’s travel involve? I’d read enough about the perils of Albanian roads to give me nightmares! We were about to discover it for ourselves…