Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Happy Campers (Beth)

We have all settled into life at Cabopino now, each enjoying our own little routines. Alfie is swimming most days and slopes off to reception to borrow the restaurant’s wifi at regular intervals. Tom is making the most of having found an English friend - Jack - to play with and they alternate between cycling, football and visiting each-other’s vans to play Lego, Moshi Monsters and board games.

Scrabble lessons from Alfie

The all-important tongue for concentration

Here, let me help you in Tom..

No Alfie, let me help YOU!!

Nathanial thinks he is in a health spa. He does Yoga, Pilates or ‘stretching’ (??!) five mornings a week, occasionally followed by a workout in the ‘adults only’ park. He is also swimming regularly and in between has developed a very close relationship with his garden chair.

Turn me over when I'm done, Love

I have also been getting comfy in the sunshine and have been reading, sewing and knitting. Chores like laundry and cooking are mostly down to me, but I don’t mind because Nathanial is on permanent loo and grey water emptying duty and regularly washes the pots, something that was at best an annual activity back at home, usually when his Mum was visiting! I am also swimming (less often) and doing quite a lot of chatting to the neighbours.

That's my concentrating face (minus tongue)

Our little feline friend has become an almost permanent fixture. He/she (I can’t quite tell which, don’t want to study too closely) is always waiting outside in the mornings and is managing to extend the nightly eviction time by curling up and looking cute. Our immediate neighbours have christened him ‘Houdini’ as despite their best barricading efforts he is regularly sneaking into their awning at night and making himself at home on their cushions, leaving a tell-tale sprinkling of white hair behind. Even Nathanial was honoured with being lap-of-choice one evening and endured the torture surprisingly well. We all think he secretly enjoyed it.

Houdini, our new van-mate

He says he's more of a dog person.

The facilities on the site are of a very high standard and are always spotlessly clean. There is an optimal time to visit the showers to ensure hot water but unfortunately, the optimal time is subject to change every day. Nathanial reckons he has never encountered a lack of hot water in the gents’ showers but he isn’t such a regular visitor as me. Tom and Alfie are sure that the regular swimming negates the need for a shower at all but we do wrestle them in every once in a while.

I'm swimming Mum, the dirt comes off in the pool!

We have already had our English half-term break from the books but this week it is Spanish half term, so there are different activities on offer at the campsite. We have been getting up earlier to get some school work done before going out to play. Yesterday morning we went down to the beach (thankfully it was too early for the nudists) to try kayaking. Nathanial is an old hand at this and I had canoed a few (ahem) years ago at school but it was new to the boys. Alfie wasn’t keen at first and we weren’t sure how he would handle being ‘instructed’ by Manu again, after his reaction to archery but he actually dealt with it fantastically and we even had an admission of enjoyment and a request to repeat the activity next time it’s offered. We all enjoyed this activity together and think we might try and do it more often once we get home.

I wasn't actually planning on going in the sea. I got very wet.With no spare clothes.

Getting the hang of paddling.

Come on Dad, Alfie is going faster than us!

We have decided to order an ‘iboost’ device to beef up our wifi reception so we can stop having to spend so much time in MacDonalds or huddled outside restaurants, etc at night. It may take a few weeks to come through, so will carry on soaking up the sunshine for a bit,  after which we will be dashing around the coastline to Pisa for Easter. We have started looking at routes and have decided to drive rather than get the Barcelona to Rome ferry, as it will only actually save us a few hundred miles and the price has been creeping up since we looked at it back in December. We should have about three weeks to travel about 1500 miles, so hopefully we’ll be able to have some breaks in between the driving and are looking forward to the French and Italian aires.

This boy misses his cats.

Houdini is very tolerant, luckily.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Show me the way to go home..... (Beth)

As my adoring public (Hi Polly) has requested to hear more from me about our adventures I thought that it was time to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, as it were.

Nathanial has been giving you his account of the trip so far so I won't go over the facts of where we have been, but rather give some of my insights into this travelling way of life.

Our month in the villa had been greatly anticipated by me when it was booked whilst we were in France, constantly moving between aires, but my time at Orange Grove which I found so relaxing was hard to leave behind. I missed the daily connections with the small community.

Although the weather throughout our stay in Quesada was good, the position of the villa meant that we missed much of it and became somewhat isolated.

We don't have many pictures of the villa month because of the robbery, luckily this one was on my phone. It's a recreation of a photo from 2003

We had a great week when the older kids came out, until 'the incident', but I was not sorry to say goodbye to the four walls and the indoor lifestyle and I think we were all glad to be back on the road and ready to move on.

At last, someone to play with!

The days we spent at Vera with Amanda and Roy, with David for the boys were the perfect tonic and I began to feel settled in the van again. Unfortunately those days couldn't last and the boys were definitely missing their gadgets; we felt a pressing need to get to Gibraltar, which we did rather more quickly than we would have had we not been robbed. I found those few days rather more stressful again. Despite my resolution to try not to worry so much I do feel anxious when trying to find overnight stopovers because we have come to learn that the aires book is not always an accurate indicator of what to expect, in terms of facilities available, cost, or even indeed whether a site will still be open. I never sleep well in the more open pitches, listening for every sound through the night.

The amazing views over deep mountain gorges are also plentiful in the southern roads of Spain and whilst I find them beautiful to admire, I don't much enjoy being so high up over the barriers, whilst Nathanial is doing rather more scene-gazing himself than is appropriate whislt driving on what I perceive to be death-inducing roads. I am seriously considering narcotics of some kind to try and keep me calm on future journeys!

Watch the bloody road, Major!
It's a long way down.

Once in Gibraltar, the weather took a turn for the worse and it really affected my mood, coupled as it was with some kind of flu bug. After a whole day shopping and another climbing the rock, I was exhausted and unable to hide my mood. When Nathanial asked me what I wanted to do (meaning that day) I was faced with a choice of going out into a wet, windy day or remaining inside our few square metres, when all I really wanted was to snuggle under a blanket on our sofa, in front of the fire in our old living room. That is what prompted the 'I want to go home' comment.

I never knew I would miss this so much

I have been feeling very homesick and it tends to be worse when the weather is bad, funnily enough. When it's sunny, I can tell myself how wonderful it is to be here, sitting outside eating dinner when at home it would be dark, wet and miserable. When it's cold or raining in Spain, we are stuck inside the van and I can vividly picture the home comforts we have given up.

Since spending time with Alicion, Steve and Jacque and coming to Cabopino, we have become connected to people once again and I am enjoying being properly 'encamped' on our sunny pitch.

I can feel relaxed eating outside at 6 p.m.

We have been sampling all the various activities offered onsite and have done some exploring of the local area. We have taken advantage of the cheap car hire offered at the airport and my Mum has made use of the cheap flights available from Bournemouth to come out and visit us for a few days.

As well as subjecting her to visits to both Lidl and Iceland supermarkets, we had a lovely sunny day in Marbella before the weather turned again.

Sunny Marbella

For now we have ruled out Portugal because of the great deal we have at Cabopino and we have also made the decision to settle down in England after our planned return in late July and not do any long-term travelling for a while. This has helped Alfie and I to relax a little more as we are both definitely missing home, great though this adventure is. I am hoping that we can now relax a little more and enjoy our time away without fretting about the future. Much as I can see the appeal of making this lifestyle a permanent choice, I am too much of a homebird for it to be an option for me, but I am anticipating some amazing holidays and short breaks now that we have the van and Nathanial is not tied to his job.

Oooh look, more stuff to jump off!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Question time (Nathanial)

In my last job the kind of questions that were asked of me on a regular basis went a bit like:

How much holiday time do I have left?
Can I have the weekend off?
Where’s that budget report?
Have you returned the interview questions?
Are you attending the strategy meeting?
What’s the plan regarding the finances?
Do HR have your up-to date staff list?
Where’s the report for this months finances?
Have you set next years budgets?
Have you distributed the business plan?
How much stock do we own?
How many staff work for us?
Has what’s his name been disciplined?
Can you lose a member of staff?

You get the picture?

 Below are some of the questions which Tom has asked since travelling:

What's it all about Dad 
How do people become werewolves?
How did God make Earth?
How did God make space?
What’s inside volcanoes?
Does metal melt?
Does rock melt?
How are babies made?
Who would win – Superman or Batman?
What’s inside tyres?
What’s inside metal?
What does ‘no doubt’ mean?
Do zombies eat people or just bite them?
What’s rock made out of?
What’s metal made out of?
What’s apple juice made out of?!
Where do sausages come from?
Do vampires exist?
Where do clouds come from?
When I stick my middle finger up like Alfie, what does it mean?
What about 2 fingers?
Do ghosts exist?
Why doesn’t superman like to kill people?
Can boys marry their mums?
How does God exist?
How did Jesus come back to life?
What happens after we die?
Will Santa find us in the van?
Alfie, if you don’t believe in Santa, who do you think puts presents under the tree, stupid?
Why did only half of two face’s face burn?
Why do robbers steal things?
Where does pork come from?
What’s water made out of?
Why do cucumber, ham & bread taste so nice together?
Do some bats eat you?
Can minions or people jump higher?
What’s underneath mud?
What animal does a banana come from?
What would win between a cat and a monkey?
Why do men have balls?
Do people who speak with a lisp, write th instead of a s?
How can fat people swim ?

These are the ones I remember, I get about twenty a day, the boy sure is curious.

Cabopino (Nathanial)

After a couple of days invading Alison’s life we head off to find a campsite to settle in for a few more days before heading off to Portugal. We are now in campsite ‘Cabopino’ in Marbella, just half an hour away from our Alison. This is a great campsite with loads of facilities for kids. There’s an indoor swimming pool, archery, shooting, a small ‘go ape’ style playing area, table tennis, pool, there’s even a small football pitch, and for the grown-ups, there’s a bar on site which seems to be the main meeting point for many of the campers. We have already seen some other kids here and it has a really nice feel to it. Maybe we’ll stay here for more than just a few days.

Coming from Nottingham, trying archery was a must
After settling in to the campsite and finding a great sunny spot, we meet up with Alison & Steve again, who are doing their best in helping us find a 12v TV since the robbin’ dogs took ours, but this is futile; for now I’m just going to by a normal TV and plug it in to the mains when we are on hook up. This is very frustrating as, not only have we been watching films etc. on it at night, but the boys have been watching educational programs in the mornings and writing about what they have learned as part of their schooling. This now means we won’t be able to do this on the road when we aren’t hooked up.
If I’m honest, I am struggling a bit moving on from this negative experience. Nothing knocks me usually, but I can’t quite shake this one off yet.

The night we buy the TV though, me and the boys settle into ‘Transformers 3’, and I think secretly Beth enjoyed it too.

Beth's under the impression that she did better than me at archery.......she's wrong
At the end of the week Alison & Steve take us to their favourite Indian restaurant for a meal. We have planned this for days, but somehow, as usual, the day has slipped us by and we end up driving down the motorway (with galeforce winds blowing the van all over the road) with Beth in the back looking for her best frock, getting thrown from side to side and trying to find some decent clothes for the lads - who are still in their shorts at this point - and me driving in the front whilst shaving at the same time.
By a miracle we make it to the restaurant in one piece and have a great meal. It’s easy to see why its Alison & Steve’s favourite, there were even chicken nuggets and chips for the kids.  Yes, sacrilege I know, but it kept them happy.

I've done this before, i know what i'm doing!!!
Back at the campsite, loads of Spanish kids turn up for a weekend break. This is great for Tom who just throws himself at them as if they had all been friends for years, which I thought worked quite well because they all accepted him, especially the little Spanish girls who fell in love with him. ‘Hola little Thomas’, ‘Well done little Tom’, bless him, he’s in his element. He has now done shooting, archery, the high ropes and played with the other kids from morning till night either playing football or racing around on their bikes.

Tom proving he will have ago at anything
Strangely enough though, Alf has had a different reaction to the influx of kids and felt uncomfortable around them, making up every excuse to stay around the van with me and his mum. After making him do the archery, which he didn’t want to do “because I’ve done it before”, he got very frustrated whilst being shown by the instructor how to get on and because he didn’t get a bulls eye on his first arrow, he got very deflated. This is Alf all over, if he can’t do something perfect on the first attempt, suddenly it’s ‘crap anyway’ or ‘boring’. He’s getting to a very awkward age.

On the high ropes, he's fearless
And on the wall, this shouldn't be climbed without an instructor present, So Alf climbed it on his own on the first day, Tom decided to tell this to the instructor, thanks Tom!
We have had such a great time at Cabopino that we have decided to postpone Portugal and book in here for a month. Stays of over thirty days give a 40% discount, making the nightly cost around €17, or £12.75 at the rate we’re getting now, including electric. One of the main reasons to go to Portugal was to save money on sites as there are more aires there, but the amount of facilities on this site make it fantastic value for money and we’ll save money on diesel too. Everyone is very friendly (and mostly British) and we are very much enjoying the activities and our swims in the warm indoor pool, often alone. After a few moves we are on a great, sunny pitch and have set up a comfy camp. 

Tom hard at it..................building lego!

Alison Steve and Jacque (Nathanial)

After meeting at the rendezvous point ( before getting lost up a mountain) we get to Alison and Steve’s place and are treated to ‘Spag Bol’ and beer. It’s lovely to catch up with Alison as I haven’t seen her for some years and up till now only really seen Steve at family dos and said the fleeting hello.

Getting lost in Ojen, what a place to lose yourself
The third family member is Jacque who is two years old and reminds me of a cross between the Tasmanian devil and Speedy Gonzales, albeit with an encyclopaedic knowledge of dinosaurs. At two the boy knows every name for all the dinosaurs that ever walked the earth, he has dinosaur toys, dinosaur games, dinosaur films, dinosaur inflatables, dinosaur books, dinosaur pictures and he even has dinosaur bones buried in his sand pit! This boy sure does like his dinosaurs.

Jacque, the dinosaur boy
Alison and Steve absolutely spoil us rotten, Alison cooks us dinners, does our laundry and Steve keeps filling us up with beer. To top it off, me and the boys have the deepest, hottest, bubbliest bath since leaving home; I am definitely coming here again.

Wild camping in the mountains near Alison & Steve's, 
Over the weekend we go for walks in the mountains and see the most stunning scenery. We have been up ‘Sierra Blanco De Ojen’, which was out of this world! We are so far south and it’s such a clear day, that we can even see Africa and below is the town of Marbella. All three boys had a great day, it was sunny and warm, and Alison & Steve made great hosts once again. 

In the mountains with our Alison, Steve and the dinosaur boy
Three wise monkeys......kind of
And the views were second to none

Monday, 2 February 2015

Gibraltar (Nathanial)

We have been looking forward to getting to Gibraltar, to the point that we have hot tailed it here and done more miles than we normally would.  We are hoping to replace our stolen goods here as it will sell British laptops, and its tax free, which is a bonus.

Alfie is also looking forward to being in a small part of Britain again, where everyone speaks English and we can find a ‘Pizza Hut’.

Strangely though, as we get to Gibraltar, British weather greets us, it is overcast and even starts raining! The first rain we’ve seen for weeks.
Next stop, Gibraltar, look at those clouds!
To add to it, the aire we were supposed to be staying in is closed, which we aren’t happy about, fortunately as we drive along the beach front we see loads of campers in the local football stadium car park. This looks friendly enough so we pull in to be greeted by an attendant who tells us it is 3 euros a night, and he is on shift until the evening.  This is good news as we need to start trying to recoup some money to replace our stolen stuff. It’s not the nicest of grounds; it’s quite muddy since it rained but it will do, and its right next to McD’s for Wi-Fi, and only a five minute bike ride into Gib.

The following day we cycle in to Gibraltar, which turns out is quite a palaver with two kids and being on bikes. The border is manic with dozens of dodgy looking people waiting outside just hanging around; it seems there is a lot of money to be made taking tobacco out of Gib, around 200 euros per day we are told. When you consider that a local would only make around 600 euros in a month working in an unskilled job and that unemployment is over 30% you can see the appeal. Unfortunately, from a visitor’s point of view it looks very anarchic and gives the place a sense of deprivation.

Once we do navigate our way through, over the border and get to the center, it’s great. It has a feel of old Britain, with cobbled streets and the old fashioned telephone boxes scattered around. None of the police have guns (which we have come accustomed to seeing) and even looked friendly with their ‘Bobby’ hats on. Never thought I would ever say that.
What's so special about a red box Dad!
Today is a shopping day to try and find a lap top etc. This is pretty easy and relatively cheap, thankfully. Alfie is happy again, now he can play Mine craft to his heart’s content. Unfortunately though, finding a 12v TV for the van has turned out fruitless; there are none in Gib anywhere it seems. I also need a new coat as the theivin’ dogs took mine and the boys. We managed to find one for Tom, but not for me or Alf, not a decent rain coat to be found anywhere. I guess the demand for a good raincoat just isn’t here, we can’t even find a camping shop, does no-one from Gibraltar even camp?

The mouse was very insulted that Alf wouldn't stand on the other side next to him.
The next day Beth has come down with some kind of bug but ,bless her she is still game for walking up Gib rock. We put our walking shoes on, make a picnic, and tackle the border again. We spend all day walking around the rock, seeing some of the tunnels, ‘Jews Gate’, The Pillars of Hercules, and of course, spend lots of time with the monkeys.

Off the beaten track walking to 'Jews Gate'

The Pillars of Hercules
These are very entertaining creatures and the boys loved them. After a full on day walking for miles we decide to treat ourselves to dinner in Gib and eat some good old fashioned British pub food. Jobs a good un.

The boys couldn't believe there was so many monkeys

This monkey felt very offended by Alf's offering

Monkeys taking pictures of monkeys, taking pictures of monkeys..........just kiddin' love
It’s now been a few days in the car park and Beth in particular is missing the shower and we are too low on water to have one in the van. For some reason I am quite happy to ‘skank it’ for a few days, and if we didn’t force the boys to shower, they would go without for weeks!

So off we go to find a camp site, driving through some very rough areas of Spain. The sat-nav just doesn’t understand these things sometimes and brings us through the most tiniest of streets and narrowest of allies, which in the van, can be pretty tricky, but we find our destination and book in. We are at Sur Europa camp site.

The site is completely empty, we are the only van here, and I do mean the only one. This is slightly unnerving, but after booking in and settling down, it turns out it is actually one of the nicest ones we have come across, being on par with Orange Grove in Beth’s eyes (Orange grove being the benchmark for all Aires/campsite). The showers are clean and spacious, but what’s more, they are hot and powerful. Wi-Fi is free, Alf’s happy, and we hook up to recharge the batteries, although funnily enough since not having electrical gadgets, the batteries have actually been ok.

After a while setting up the laptop and downloading software, me and Tom hit the showers. Now after a few days ‘skanking it’ a good hot shower is truly appreciated, to the point that Tom spends forty minutes just standing under it. Bless him, after such a long shower, hair wash and ear clean, he’s a new boy. To top it off, there are loads of cats that live on the camp site and the lads are soaking them up, happy days.
Feeling very clean after an hour in the shower
In the morning, after filling up with water, we head back to the car park for a few more cheap nights. It’s due to rain again so we know we have a day not doing much before we head back for another day in Gib. This is where Beth drops the bombshell on me; she’s feeling very homesick and wants to go home!!! Argggh, I had a sense this was coming. This lifestyle is not for her, and I know Alfie has struggled a bit too, but he's enjoying it and has become less homesick as the weeks have gone on. For me and Tom, we have just took it in our strides, in fact, I haven’t been this content with life for years and years, I could do this for ever. I get to spend all day with the boys and everything is an adventure with them, we see new things constantly, I love just watching them play, and fight, and not having anything else in my head. Seeing how they deal with being in new situations regularly is truly amazing, they are now just accepting that change is normal, and together they are confident enough to tackle anything. As much as they can wind each other up, they draw great strength from each other too. Alf is missing the cats, but I believe this will be an experience that will follow him to the grave. I’m hoping this feeling will pass with Beth.

The next day we pull into a park area which Tom has had his eye on for days and kept asking to play in. Beth is still feeing under the weather and falls asleep on Alf’s bed whilst Alf plays his DS, and I just sit looking at Tom through the widow.

The park is close to the fence separating Gib from Spain and on the beach next to a board walk. All in all, a very picturesque park. Suddenly, there is a large gathering of lads in their teens – twenties. I decide to stay in the van and observe as Tom has been playing very nicely with another child, and I want to see how he will react to a large group of older lads embarking on the park. Tom is completely un-phased by this or the language barrier and interjects himself with the older lads who have decided to sit at the top of the slide area smoking fags. Tom decides he still wants to use the slide and keeps walking through the middle of them to get to where he needs to be.

After a short while, some scooters ride over the board walk towards the fence and some of the lads follow them. By now I’m just getting a feeling that something really dodgy is happening which involves more than a few lads smoking fags at the local park, so I walk over and decide it’s time for Tom to come in for a nice hot chocolate.  No sooner had I picked him up and got in the van when two coppers on bikes raced over the board walk to where the scooters went and grabbed two of the lads, then two border patrol cars pulled up and started questioning some of them. This went on for about 20 minutes before the lads were allowed to leave.

 I asked Tom if he had seen anything or knew why the police had turned up, he said he only saw a group of lads come from the Gib side of the fence and throw loads of suitcases over, and then another load of lads went to pick them up. But, more importantly, “Where’s my hot chocolate you made me come in for Dad?!!”

 As soon as the border patrol drive off, about six lads appear from the undergrowth and run off across the street, leaving some others still hanging around the park. Two minutes later these lads start to run off and about five Guarda Civil cars screech up and grab the lot, man handling them against the cars for what looks like a grilling. This is my signal to leave. Sorry Tom, the hot chocolate will have to wait.

Beth and Alfie fancy a quiet day the flowing morning so me and Tom head into Gib on our own. There has been a glass blowing exhibition whist we have been here, we’ve already been in once but Tom is fascinated by it and wants to go in again to see how they do ‘glass blowing’. We spend about half an hour just watching two very skilled men make the most amazing vases and glasses. Next door is the shop where the finished items are sold; you can pick up a nice glass vase for around £300, the shop is jammed with loads of very delicate pieces which Tom insists on looking at. Tom being Tom can’t just look with his eyes, and his hands start to get dangerously close to picking things up, that’s our cue to leave.  We treat ourselves to a nice pub lunch and head back. At this point it is hammering it down and we are completely soaked, no excuse to tell Tom not to ride through puddles, so I let him go for it, bless him, he loves it.
It really is an art
After spending one more day in Gib relaxing in the botanic garden and having lunch, we decide it’s time to head towards Portugal, but not before spending some time with my cousin and her fella (Alison & Steve) in Marbella. Alison can speak Spanish so I am hoping she can help with sourcing a 12v TV over here. Fingers crossed.
Tom getting a bit too relaxed in the gardens