A year ago today

dover
Can you believe that it was a year ago today that we set off on our huge adventure?

I remember it so clearly. We’d never really driven in Gloria that much and we got about one mile down the road before we realised that all the cupboard doors were flying open all the time and I needed to do something to secure them or the kids would be unconscious by the time we got to Dover! Enter the humble hair bobble which is still to this day the cupboard securing method of choice ;)

I was so scared. Like really scared. I felt so responsible for this huge thing that we were doing. What if it all went wrong? What would be do then?

It’s a good job that James and the kids were on cloud 9 and so happy to be getting going. I think I was just shaking the entire way down!

We stopped a few times at some service stations to just let the van rest, she’d never done big runs, had spent 6 months prior sat on my mums drive and probably at least 6 months prior to that on the garage forecourt. Even though I’d planned to, we never did take her for that test run. So, the 200+ miles to Dover was her test. And she did great. Apart from it seemed that the fuel gauge light wasn’t very accurate.

We figured we’d have enough fuel to get to Dover and then to a fuel station in France where it is much cheaper than the UK. The light came on as we were about 20 miles or so from Dover, so we pulled in at the next services and put in £10 of fuel. Surely that would be enough eh? Nope. Only got us to Dover and we felt we should put a bit more in, just to be safe. Diesels don’t do well when they run out of fuel.

But other than that, Gloria drove so well. For a 25 year old van she was great. We parked up on the sea front at Dover, it rained, but it was fine as our friends who happened to be on their way back from Germany popped by to see it :D We got chips, our table collapsed (a recurring theme) and we got used to camper life, toileting in a glorified bucket and sleeping where you have never slept before.

The next day was a nerve wracker again. I so nervous! We headed to the docks, checked in, sat in the queue and breathed a sigh of relief that we had almost made it to France!

All of a sudden we had a knock on the window. The person behind us had seen our web address on the van and checked us out and decided to wish us luck! It was so nice to hear, put me at ease and I’ll remember that moment forever. Thanks!!

The moment arrived for us to embark. At that same moment one of the cupboard doors completely fell off and I had to rush to fix it back. Honestly, the van worked soooo well, but the interior needs a complete overhaul!!

wissantWe were so excited to reach France, I remember the kids going crazy at all the new stuff in the supermarket, the new words and the prices. Such a difference and so close to home still!

Our first night was in the town of Wissant, our first proper stop, our first try out of an Aire and it was free. My favourite word of all time! Oh and we were near a beach!

Of course not everything went smoothly from then on, our fuel gauge issue meant that we’d upset the fuel filter on that first day and we wondered if Gloria would ever run well again, and many more things. But it was the start of an amazing adventure. I smile at every little detail now.

Overland train travel in Europe

One of the things that I really want to do is some more long distance train travel in Europe. I have this dream that I go to sleep in the UK and I wake up in the contrast of a city like Venice! I always remember going on an inter-railing trip when I was younger and loving the fact I could go to sleep in Paris and wake up in the South of France.

I’m also not hugely keen on air travel, not only due to the green issues, which I’ll admit I don’t know enough about to rant too much on, but more due to the fact that I’m not a great lover of flying. I hate feeling cooped up and I hate the feeling that there are so many people cooped up with me. I try not to think about it too much but I do really suffer from claustrophobia! Not to mention the extra fees and baggage limits. It can really add up when you’re travelling as a family. What looks like a cheap flight can quite often end up really expensive.

The other thing is, we live in Europe, it’s so awesome that we have so many countries at our fingertips. I’m chatting to so many Americans right now who would give an arm and a leg for such diversity on their doorstep. I want to explore it from ground level, watch the countryside roll by and change ever so slowly as I go. I want to watch the station signs change and the languages change. I love learning the new words for ‘exit’ or ‘station’. Just little things.

Although I’ve done some train travel in Europe, I haven’t done one of the big things which is travel from the UK over to the continent using the Eurostar and the channel tunnel. I remember when this service started and it seemed so cool that we could now reach this expanse of land without flying or suffering from sea sickness. I can’t believe I’ve still not managed to do this!

I love the fact that you can get up, stretch your legs and just feel free. You don’t get that on a plane, you don’t get that in a car even!

So one thing I think I must try and work out is how to get to Paris again. I only ever saw the train stations there when I was younger as I was in transit and so never quite managed to explore. The kids really want to go as well to soak up the major sights. We’re not shy of wanting to see the big things! The Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, the catacombs, maybe even a boat trip down the Seine. That would be lovely! Not sure I could convince them to go to Disneyland though. I think we may have missed that boat now that they’re 12 and 13. I’d still love to go though!

Of course once we get to Paris. We could move on and take a train somewhere else. Where would you go?

First trip to Asia – a Bosphorus Cruise

ist4I mean to post this ages ago. Sorry. Life has taken over!

No trip to Istanbul is complete without crossing over to another continent and we love boat trips so we were excited when the day arrived that we would make that trip.

I’d been to Asia before when I visited Israel back in my late teens, but James and the kids have never been out of Europe, so this was pretty big.

As you wander down to the river side of the Bosphorus you see so many touts and companies offering tours, cruises, trips, whatever variation you can think of! It would be easy to go in to one of the many tourist agency offices and just sign up to a simple cruise, but you’d be paying way over the odds for that. I think I was seeing prices of around 30 euros each for a cruise.

I’d read up on it and found that the best price would be for the 7 hour cruise which was run by Sehir Hatlari . This was the official ferry company and the prices were really reasonable. I think it was 25 Turkish Lira each for the return cruise which also allowed you 3 hours on the Asian side in a little village called Anadolu Kavağı. So I think in all it was about £20 for all four of us. You can get your tickets on the waterfront. If you position yourself at Galata Bridge, where all the fishermen are, the office is the first one on your right hand side. They don’t take credit cards, but there are some ATM’s right next to it.

The cruise itself was just really lovely, there are a few stops either side and you go under two of the bridges that connect the continents. Food sellers come on with yoghurt and other items, but it’s not a hard sell or anything like that.Ist2

Once you get to Anadolu Kavağı you get a couple of hours. It’s just a small village, with lots of restaurants, shops all set up to cater for the influx from the boats! There’s also a castle/fort at the top of a big hill which we decided we’d walk up. We picked a gorgeous day for it, a clear blue sky and I’ll never forget the sounds of the mosques as I was walking up the hill. I could hear them from both sides of Turkey!

The ruin was closed to visitors when we were there so once we’d made it to the top, we had to be content with the fabulous view over the Black Sea. And it was rather fabulous!

ist3

We don’t often do restaurants, but we figured that this would be a good day for it and so we chose one that was right by the sea. Marcus struggled to choose but went for kofte in the end and really enjoyed it. We had loads of chips as we’d ordered extra and hadn’t realised and all the cats in the area must have realised as they came in droves! Some sooooo cute and others that were really menacing!

 

Ist1

I’d highly recommend the trip, really reasonable for families and an exciting thing to write home about!  Now we can tick another continent off the list!

Tentative wonderings for the future

We’re constantly wondering how to get out next dream of travelling up and running and how it will look.  We know we can’t quite escape the UK as fully as we’d like and we can’t quite cut the ties just yet, we’re still wanting to do *something*

Our current thoughts are that we may spend a couple of months in Spain this winter.  We’ve struggled with the cold and damp here this year and we’ve been fairly miserable.  I love the UK in the summer, but I’m getting a bit fed up of it in the winter.  We’re pondering wether we can split our time in some way.

The problems that we’re facing are the ties.  Things like our car, phone contracts, you know, the things that were annoying before, well they are still annoying now!  Do we keep the car and use that to get to Spain, Italy, France, wherever.  Or do we sell it, be without our own car and then just hire a car when we need it back in the UK or when we need it abroad?  I’ll be the first to admit I don’t like car ownership, and that I would really like to experience life without it.  But can we cope with just hire cars when we need them?  Would it even be cost effective?

The positive’s for keeping our car would be that it’s ours, we can use it as and when we like and we’re independent.  The tricky bits are insurance, breakdown and then maintenance costs.  James has also been hearing horror stories of people in Spain with UK number plates being targeted for crime.  I’m not one to be listening to that, but if we’re weighing up pros and cons then I guess I should include it.

If we rented, we’d have a great headstart when we do cut our ties to the UK.  We’d be free of the bills of owning a car, could choose whether to rent or take public transport.  We’d also be free to consider going a bit further afield.  James would hate not owning a car though!  But maybe he’d be swayed by being able to test out new models!!

So for now I’ll keep pondering and keep learning.  Thankfully the internet is huge and there are loads of articles and tips out there to help me get some thoughts in order.  I think we have such a huge learning curve ahead of us.  Sometimes keeping one foot in one country and also attempting to jump to another can be trickier than just making the leap.  I think it will be worth it in the end though.

Istanbul for kids – the good and the bad

Istanbul and Turkey is great for kids, the people just love children and are so pleasant and accommodating. Having two older kids meant that they didn’t get quite so much attention, but we still got stopped and spoken to by the locals because of the kids.

Marcus and Alex are really quite easy to drag around sights and are happy wandering round looking at architecture as much as more fun things. I thought I’d document what we liked about Istanbul and what we thought wasn’t worth the time and money.

The good

Mosques

inside Blue mosque istanbul

Istanbul has these in spades!  We actually only visited inside two, the Blue Mosque and a smaller one behind the Blue Mosque called the little Hagia Sophia (I think), but I loved the architecture and the peace inside.  So beautiful.  A great lesson to the kids in the respect of others religions as well due to having to take shoes off and cover hair.  We talked lots about pointing towards Mecca and thankfully there were loads of information boards in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque since my knowledge of Islam is pretty small.

Read More…