The Heel of Italy

So, here we are on leg one of the three month trip to and from a family wedding in Italy. The three-week journey from Malta to Tuscany is pretty straight forward, but the trip home again will feel like halfway around the world as we take ten weeks to do Belgium, Germany, Copenhagen and beyond. Much of it is still up the air; as we follow our noses.

I’ve had my head in editing and writing mode for six weeks solid without a break (including weekends) and it’s lovely to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ll talk about that in the next blog or two… this is a bigger catch up as I’m so behind on news!

In a few week’s time, we’ll be a year into our to two-year sabbatical, and I won’t lie – it’s been hard. But not in ways most people assume. I realised recently that people think we must hate being around each other all the time – but we don’t. Which led to the realisation the other day that short of an hour or so while he cooks or pops next door for ingredients, we are never further than a few feet apart. Yup; you read that right – we spend about twenty-three hours a day less than three feet apart, with no one else we know around (other than the odd visit every three or four months when we’re on the road). No one planned it that way; it’s just how it is. We’ve always been like that. Even when he’s worked long hours, we’re always in contact. It’s just how we roll. We’re good at working alongside each other and I’ve been working twelve hour days. So there’s also a whole lot of healthy silence around here. We’re both quite introverted and we enjoy the quiet.

Which also means, while we work hard on assessing and building and working on ourselves and our lives and our marriage and all that (the hard stuff), the idea of a plot of land in the country has gone out of the window completely. The dream of big open spaces, for us, has turned out to be a bit of a myth; if it’s not dogs barking or a tractor going it’s a chainsaw or a lawnmower or any number of “boy toys” dressed up as farm machinery and “work”. So now we’re thinking more about small apartments and double glazed windows for our future!

Speaking of said future… we miss the babies terribly, and as they start to really settle into adulthood and build careers and families and now houses, (and there’s another new baby on the horizon), we’ve put the first peg in the sand of our second half and bought a block of land in Queensland (Australia). It came out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago, but it slotted exactly into a spot we didn’t know was waiting for us, and we’ll be right next door to some of the grandbabies and we could not feel more spoiled or blessed to be invited to be in their lives like that.

So while I’m writing, he’s in full on land buying/contract/money/advice mode, and I’m ignoring it all except when I’m needed for design purposes; much of which won’t happen for a while. The land isn’t even ready yet, so the house won’t be till next year, and this means we really have something to look forward to.

Anyway, so I’ll talk more about books and building and babies in the next few posts, but for now, back to the current trip.

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We LOVE staying in Molly (our VWT5 campervan) and Daisy (our tandem Pino) means we can access places I otherwise can’t. Now and then I hop off and walk around a bit, but mostly we’re the crazy people weaving through small-towns in the heel of Italy. We don’t enjoy campgrounds or crowds (or tourists haha!) so we usually travel on the shoulder seasons but we’re heading into summer here in Europe so I’ve been saving my HouseSwap points to park in people’s gardens instead. He wasn’t quite sure how this was going to work, but this is week one and we’re staying on an old olive farm in the middle of nowhere. It’s old, the bed is rock hard, the water is from a well. It’s rustic at best and all the things one doesn’t enjoy in a house swap that isn’t ideal, but we have everything we need in Molly so it’s like having our own free, and very private campground. We still sleep in Molly, but we have a porch and a shower, a kitchen and a toilet – and no neighbours parked right next to us. I’ve booked a house swap for a week or so twice a month throughout the trip, so we’ll still wild camp in between.

Matera was the first town and just amazing. Much of the old city is dug into the side of the cliffs. It’s not a wheelchair or a bike-friendly town for obvious reasons so we couldn’t stay long and couldn’t go down into the town at all, but it was worth the stop.

Ostuni is our local town so we ride there for supplies. It’s worth a visit in it’s own right.

Monopoli was lovely too.

Riding between towns through olive groves, hay bales … (and sadly, disgusting seashores you don’t actually want to see)…

Polignano a Mare where the cliff diving happens (we didn’t even try to go that day as we’d never get close enough to see anything and I can’t go down or up)…

Pizza for dinner in small squares was a highlight but nowhere near as good as the gelato which was AMAZING (and didn’t last long enough for a photo).

To save my spoons (energy) we caught trains too.

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It’s about to get hot, so the weekend will be spent on the porch and writing and editing again before we head off north on Sunday.

#TheLongWayHomeFromAnItalianWedding #VanLife #VWT5 #Molly #Daisy #13Weeks #9Countries #91Sleeps #Tandem #Pino

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Camino!

We are so way off track it’s not funny! We were “supposed” to be doing one of the Camino walking tracks on Daisy through the north of Portugal and Spain on this, our #SevenFerries trip. We hadn’t locked in anything yet other than Ferry number Five from southern France next Tuesday, but we had a whole ten days to look around the place and work out which tracks were actually ridable and find some we could manage on Daisy (and I could manage with my health).

We stopped in Porto for a couple of nights and had a blast. I still need to blog about that I think, but I’m too busy living, writing, and hanging out with him, that there just isn’t enough time. Not that it’s all a bed of roses mind you, we are working our butts off on writing/publishing, we’re working on the stuff we’ve taken this two-year sabbatical to do,  and we’re working on our plans for our Second Half which is set to begin, God willing, towards the end of next year.

We thought we could see the world (or at least much of Europe) in these two years but we’re nearly halfway and we haven’t even begun!! Anyway, I digress (much like this trip) and one last minute decision after another and we found ourselves in the south of Portugal with not enough time for Caminos in the north, pouring rain (so no riding) and trying to find the fastest route to our next ferry port in France yet desperate to get in at least a few days riding!

And that’s when we discovered the Camino Natural Via Verde de la Sierra. Vias Verde are green belts across Spain which are disused train tracks of varying lengths which have been restored for walkers, cyclists and travellers. Much like other Caminos or trails, they are tranquil and beautiful, but unlike many of the older paths which now run alone roadways, these are void of all motorised traffic, and they are wide and flat (both in width and inclines and declines – because that’s what trains do).

In true Spanish style, the rules about no livestock, no vehicles, no animal poop are thoroughly ignored, and I look forward to putting up some videos of us riding through a herd of newborn lambs, one with a death wish.

Yesterday, we rode the Sierra route which is 36 km long, but because we always have to land up in the same spot, we had to ride it both ways! It was the first time I’ve covered over 60km (we did 74 in the end) first time I’ve climbed over 700m in height over a ride, and the twice as long as my longest day with four and half hours in the saddle! We also rode through 60 train tunnels!!

That shows how easy it was and reminded me to dig out my very first Pino ride to show you how it works. (I’ll post both videos on my Facebook author page too)

Anyway, I’m way behind on Why We Don’t Tell which has to go to the final editors in a couple of weeks, so this is a brief catch up.

Tonight was our first sunshine in a week and we’ve moved camp to the edge of this olive grove that reaches as far as the eye can see in every direction… A new via verde tomorrow and then we have to zoom north as fast as we can. And somehow I’ve got to find the time to write!!

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Wild Camping!

I love many things wild. I think in some other life I’m part wild child, flower child, hippy even … to a point though. I’m not entirely sure where the line is though, but I love nothing more than sleeping under the stars … (except my health won’t allow it). So when I imagined a life in a campervan, I had visions of stars and forests and beautiful vistas… from the comfort of an AMAZING bed! I’ll put it out there now: I have a strong dislike for Caravan Parks. I think they can be fabulous for families and certain life stages, but the idea of another tent or caravan a foot from my door is not the same thing as sleeping in the wild (for me). I want to get away from it all, not have to listen to next door neighbour’s movies, drunken stories, children running around at 5am. I want to read and listen (and watch my own movies of course – but not bother anyone either).

So when I heard of wild camping I was even happier, but my very conservative other half was not so sure. Wild Camping to him sounded like hiding in car parks for the night and the police knocking on the window at 3am telling us to move on. I admit, I thought there’d be some of that too, which I don’t like, but I also thought of forests and beaches more.

But it turns out that it’s the best of all of that! Running country pubs and farms across the UK (and Europe) is expensive these days and there aren’t enough chimneys in any one village to support them any more. So they need to attract people from further afield. It turns out that most pubs in the UK are allowed up to three campers overnight in their car park. So why not bring in three extra van loads of people and in exchange for a clean loo, a place to park (often with a stunning view of farmland or rivers etc) they have their beer or even a meal, in your pub (or buy some of your apples).

Some farmers and publicans have taken it a step further and provide showers, clean drinking water to fill up tanks, others go even further and ask a small fee of just a few pounds for even more including electricity and more formal sites. There’s a whole world out there of campers, sites you would never know exist, fields, orchards, river banks…. with kind, informative, friendly fellow travellers and all the open sky, privacy, and room you could ask for, and much of it almost free!

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PS: Thanks so much to those who’ve offered to support and keep asking where and how! I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

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Upgrade Mark 2

So Molly started out life as a commercial vehicle. @VanscapeLtd found her for us, stripped the insides, and built a basic fit-out. This was done from afar and constituted her first upgrade. We chose Vanscape mainly because their fit-out has a full sized double bed option which could potentially be a game changer for me. Believe me, this is a rare thing in the camping world, and they did an amazing job. I elected to have some of the doors not fitted, as my bed will be an almost permanent set up and I won’t be able to open them with the bedding on.

We collected her on Wednesday, then on Friday drove to good friend Nigel’s for a few days of R&R and upgrade round two.

I would have preferred no window here behind the driver side, as it’s not really needed and the alternative for me would have been a kitchen wall. But I didn’t have a choice, this was the right van to get, and it came with a window here. So, as soon as we got to Nigel’s, I locked it shut, put up its thermal blinds, and asked Nigel for his thoughts on a backing board.

Low and behold, he produced a gorgeous piece of blonde plywood from the corner of his amazing garage, and over a good many hours of very careful work, we (mostly Nigel actually) produced this:

I’d arrived prepared with some basic fittings from IKEA, and the kitchen really started to take shape on day two, despite the rather stressful night in between!

Nigel’s such a patient man! But also a truth speaker like myself, so he very kindly worked with me and my ideas but said NO when they got out of hand somewhat, …and lovingly suggested alternatives which produced these gorgeous copper “towel racks” on the high cupboards:

I’ve still got a long way to go to finish Molly’s fit out, but in the meantime, I’m very happy with the progress so far!

There’s a fine line between the kitchen on the left and my “Office”/bed on the right, but I’m trying to keep them a little bit distinctive. More photos to come as we tweak again…

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PS: Thanks so much to those who’ve offered to support and keep asking where and how! I’ll keep these links at the bottom of my posts for the next month 🙂 They’re the easy, no-spam emails I’ll send out no more than weekly (and believe me, I miss sending half of those) till the book launches and you can get your free copy!

Main email group:
Team Tortoise:
Team Hare:
The Editing Team:

Where you can find and follow Jennifer:

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@JPeaSmith