Summer Camper Trip – Loredo, Spain.

Towards a surf beach with easy access from the van – that’s the plan! It’s Friday and that makes it two weeks on the road. The accommodation spend is looking good at €80 for the entire 14 nights. The grommets are chomping at the bit to get on a wave … quietly I am too. I feel the pull towards the alchemy of the ocean. I long to feel myself submerged in the warmth of her salty, cleansing embrace.

In the past I’ve always been a creature of summer but these last few years I’ve felt a great shelter in the winter and the cold. The quiet, slow, stillness that the shorter days encourage. The time to hibernate and think on things. The freedom to be without the expectations of switching on socially. Summer tends to be noisy I find! Perhaps it was more about taking a break from the continual ‘on’ summer feeling of living in Sydney (or how we’d experienced work/life in a big city).

We arrived into Loredo in the afternoon … we never seem to be able to get ourselves going early. We knew we’d be lucky to find a spot in the caravan park that Greg had found in the camper contact ap. But we decided to just go and wing it. We’d again stocked up on food, filled the clean water, emptied the dirty water so we were organised. If we couldn’t get a spot in the campground we’d wild camp again.

I’m starting to enjoy this freedom of not worrying or booking ahead of knowing it will all be ok. Of trusting that perhaps something else was meant for us if it didn’t work out. We are always going to be fine anyway aren’t we? We have a house on wheels and we’re not falling short of meeting our basic needs. Hmmm there’s some life wisdom in that perhaps.

As it turned out the campground was full! But the owner offered us his car spot at 20% off the normal rates. Sure. I need to wash those three bags full and they have a laundry, playground, cafe and beach access! We could camp out here for a bit. Mind you even with the discount it didn’t come cheap at €46 per night. It did however come with spectacular sunset’s, contented little people, salty surfs, healing swims, endless beach to wander and the barrel of laughter and joy that comes with the chill of a beach break and family time.

It also came with pre dinner dips and endless bowls of pasta dinners. Because – hungry, active kids. It came with UNO and new friends in caravan park playgrounds. Even when the kids didn’t speak English. The was time to read a novel of fiction, one that had me lost in the valley of emotions and dreams. Glorious escapism at its finest.

As a town to holiday in there wasn’t a lot of charm … it’s a new built with a modern feel. The Spanish village charm is missing. That’s fine for us we are self contained in our little house on wheels and can sink into what we need from this time spent by the water’s edge.

If you look above you’ll always find yourself a spectacular shot. A point of focus, a view, a compass … a place to rest your lens and linger in beauty. Perhaps I should show you what lies below this shot.

Can you see what I see above the tree line? What I captured in the shot above this? This is where I like to view life … above the noise and distraction of chaos. My friend Annette is famous for looking up.

It dawns on me during this stay that for the first time in years we will be going home after this trip. Home to somewhere we’ve lived for a while. I start to feel a stirring of that being a good thing. It’s timely. I’m ready to stop moving (for now) and I’m ready to feel summer again. There’s a longing of wanting to create something with all the travel and exploration of the past years. Perhaps more than a longing, perhaps a pull. And it’ll take energy, summer energy.

So dear friends as we leave the ocean and set off on the road towards the mountains, these thoughts and this pull come along with me. What will the mountains do with them?

Buen camino,

Fran xx

Camper tips:

Be not afraid of not knowing where you’ll park up! The possibilities are endless.

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting,

So… get on your way!

Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

Summer Camper Trip – Bilbao, Spain.

I don’t actively seek the scallops or the yellow arrows but as we settle into this month long trip along the North coast of Spain here they are again! Of course it’s not surprising given that the Norte Camino route towards Santiago weaves it’s way along this part of the world. I do like the reminders though … to follow the ‘way’.

When we first landed in The Netherlands we had an experience in the ‘expat’ housing system that led me to an unfamiliar place. A place where even though you do what’s right you can still get hurt. Sometimes no matter what you do a situation just can not be fixed, your decision has turned into a bad one. I like to live in a trusting world and so feeling like I’d landed in a mistake because of my trusting nature was a tough one for me to navigate. Even with all my wildness I still follow rules … so when a party doesn’t play fair it’s a challenge for me. The whole situation had me re-evaluating every decision I’d made in the past few years it shook me hard.

It’s a situation we moved away from but for a while it stole something from me. Trust. Thankfully I had the camino for One Girl to anchor me. Without the connection to One Girl it would have been easy for me to walk away from walking the camino. The trust I lost is the kind that is rooted in my core (my soul) … trust that the universe would be kind as long as I’m kind and honest. Perhaps it messed with my pre-conceived notions of karma.

Now, with some space between the darkness of that time and the light the of the camino and all the acts of kindness* along the way. I trust the ‘way’ I’m living and wandering about in this life again. And I’m enjoying this dip into uncertainty that always comes when I step into a new adventurous experience. The unchartered new perspectives and thoughts that are sparked by my curiosity and love of unplanned travel. Clarity, will in time unfurl the ‘way’ for me so long as I surrender to trust.

Without trust it’s easy for fear to win don’t you think? And when fear wins we don’t dare. Dare to try, dream, believe – to trust in ourselves and the universe. It’s easy for the beasts of fear and doubt and modern day expectations to hold us prisoner but I’m not surrendering to them. I’m not going down the garden path of fear, expectations and complacency without a fight. As my sister says … ‘those who take risks and live adventurously always end up ok’. I will forever be walking my own camino and embracing that I have a choice in how I tread that path. Even when it requires re-writing old stories and always by creating new ones.

Bilbao – home of a Guggenheim museum. It was a stop we didn’t manage last year. We were hightailing across Spain to escape the Portuguese heat waves. City stops in a camper are not always the easiest and for us they’re often the first thing we cross off our ‘where we want to go’ list.

As with any museum there were exhibitions that appealed to us and those that didn’t. I’m glad we visited … although if you have kids the staff aren’t shy about shaming you if they step anywhere near the art (be prepared). It’s definitely not a museum you can let a toddler loose in because you can get up close to amazing pieces of work and in our case the Joana Vasconcelos exhibition. No photos as it wasn’t allowed. If you get a chance and this exhibition makes it to your country I’d love to chat about it with you if you see it. I’m still thinking about it.

Then we basically just wandered, got soaked, ate the best tortilla (ever), enjoyed a picnic baguette and spent our own time back at camp sinking into the freedom and space that comes with #vanlife. The view was a €15 per night postcard. We also wore through all our clothes as there wasn’t a one stop shop** with washers on the way in to Bilbao from San Sebastián. Not like France.

We stayed two nights and left with three bags full (of washing and contentment). Seeing our kids as themselves is the most beautiful gift. Even running out of smalls can’t dampen our spirits … we are in our travel and family element (and we can hand wash). So with a car loaded after a big old food shop (can’t speak highly enough about stocking up) it’s onwards. Towards the beach for the luxury of that salty smell, a surf for the grommets amongst us and a washing machine!

Buen Camino,

Fran xx

*Kindness. Yes, I’m talking to you lot: the messages, the crystals, the artwork, the sage sticks, the spells and mostly the trust. The trust you put in me to do something that mattered and by encouraging me with all your support. It was everything, it kept me tethered.

** if you’re reading this and planning to Camper … we found a big carrefour in the industrial part out of town (Bilbao). The Repsol (petrol station) had an eco laundry attached to it.

Camper tips:

City stays!

We’ve done a few. The easiest ones are the ones that have a metro, bus or train station close by. If you’re lucky you can find a park up within walking distance (San Sebastián and Girona – awesome ones). Mostly for the big cities we have stayed in caravan parks. Rome, Barcelona, Lisbon all convenient but be prepared to transport in. We made it all the way to Madrid only to decide we’d give it a miss. The caravan park (the only one) was pretty gross and it was a bus and tram away … and in 40 degree heat, not fun with kids. There is a freedom in embracing flexibility and spontaneity, in not ticking every box and in choosing easy – the possibility of something even more wonderful. Freedom from stress, isn’t that one of the things we go away to remember?

Summer Camper Trip – San Sebastián, Spain.

Imagine if we finished everything we started! Gosh we’d be busy wouldn’t we. Nah, busy is not for me … never has been and especially not when it comes to travel. Active – sure. But checking off a ‘to see or do’ everything list, nah not interested. Now that we travel with kids I think I’d go mad if I tried. So when we leave we often know there will be another time or perhaps even another place.

That ‘another time’ in San Sebastián came these past few days. We passed through here on our trip last year. Last year as we wandered along the cobblestones, drank the sangria, ate the tapas and even got hair cuts* … we knew in our hearts we’d be back as we fell for this city and it’s inviting city beach. La Concha. Yes – we’d be back to swim and play here.

*we often do every day get organised kinds of things like get hair cuts when we travel! Seriously, it’s so much easier with four to get a haircut at the time you just happen to walk past one together.

We arrived at the motorhome park we stayed in last year (€7.90 per night) where everything is in walking distance. After dealing with the facilities, (more on that in camper tips) we realised the park up was full. We knew there was another one out of town but as we left we noticed there were many campers parked on the surrounding streets. A 7m house on wheels needs a long car park but if there is enough footpath and it’s low we can back right up and fit into one spot.

Last year I’m not sure we would have considered parking up in the street! But now we’re a lot more adventurous. Gosh I remember the first time we ‘wild’ camped in Portugal last year in a beach car park I was so nervous. Wild camping is the term for ‘free’ camping, generally in a non camping spot. And doing it in a city is a first for us. We even slept with our windows open! Seriously my levels of fear have shifted significantly. That’s practice though isn’t it. It’s the same with anything right, the more we do something the better we get at it. It’s nice to be able to measure yourself a year later and see how far you’ve come.

Gosh kids are adaptable … in a manner of a few days we’ve gone from exploring world war 1 trenches, to climbing mountains to a day playing with kids from around the world they’d never met and now a city street park up! And the first thing they did when we parked was to start playing down ball against the available concrete wall. My kids sink so freely into exploring and travel as long as they can play!

After a night parked ‘wild’ we found a spot in the motor home park and settled ourselves in between a van of young German lads and a Dutch van. The German lads tended to spend a lot of time over at a van full of young German girls! No surprises there. We bonded easily with the neighbors after one of our boys let a loud fart rip (much to his embarrassment, the littlest ;)). The Germans all thought it was hilarious and said it sounded like their van.

We’re still sticking with one pot, one plate meals when we can … wraps work as a brilliant plate. And the afternoon chop and snack type foods! Oranges are the best in Spain – as you would expect. Most of the food in Europe is grown here I imagine.

We ended up staying three nights in SS and enjoyed a magical day playing at La Concha. I finally test rode my SUP. I was a bit wobbly, but with a month up my sleeve to practice I hope to be cruising into the the spring on the canals back in The Netherlands. Z was a natural. It was brilliant to visit again and to have swam in the picturesque harbour. I swam out to the pontoon and managed to talk myself through the deep water dread I sometimes get in the Australian oceans. No sharks here! We spent an afternoon strolling in the old town (bugger the hairdresser was closed) and as the sunset on the third night we decided it was time to head out next morning.

After camping in a tight city park up it felt like the right time to move on and seek some space. This is the great joy of the campervan, the freedom to move with our moods and needs. The Dutch campers next to us and the subsequent Dutch van that camped after them were so ‘night’ noisy. Both coming home at late night and reorganizing and sorting their vans for a morning departure. It’s part of summer camper vanning there are more people around! We were so spoilt last year traveling in the off peak season between March and July. Although I have been pleasantly surprised how easy it is to park up without hordes of people out of the cities. Motor home parks are transient places not full of month long ‘set up house’ type campers.

So we say good bye to San Sebastián. We both decided this would be a weekender place for us now if we were to return. A place to sneak away as adults or with friends to enjoy the cobblestone streets with its bars of tapas that spill with fun and conviviality out into the late afternoons.

Buen camino friends we’re off to Bilbao,

Fran xx

Camper tips:

The facilities! No hiding from it … it’s got to be done.

Have the chemicals! Don’t run out. They can be purchased at service stations, supermarkets and camper parks. I once read a story of a family who didn’t realise you need chemical in a chemical toilet!!!

Gloves get some heavy duty ones! Greg likes to wipe with detail wipes after each empty.

Empty as often as you can. Filing the facilities is risky.

Get used to sending everyone off to the toilet when there is one available – even just in case they can go.

Summer Camper Trip – Bayonne, France.

We arrived in time for the Paella and what a fabulous treat! Not just the food but the entire 24 hours. We popped in on our favourite French family who are the family of friends we made in Sydney. This wonderfully warm family who do everything with great love! A gathering that flowed with a genuine passion for the dining experience. And luxuriously elegant in its beautiful simplicity. Have you ever watched a French family sit down to eat? It’s truly a inspiring experience.

We landed here during the Fètes de Bayonne. A five day summer festival. A festival that celebrates with music, street performances, traditional dance, parades and fireworks. Local Bayonne’ites from this Northern Basque Country wear the red and whites, the colours of Pamplona. We didn’t make our way into the festival but couldn’t help but be swept up on the excitement.

There were tents pitched on nature strips and on vacant lots. It appeared there were no restrictions for this weekend of fun and frivolity. We camped up on the street of our friends house. We did so without incident … although we were awoken by the singing of a few loud partygoers returning home! We have now managed to stay in France for 8 nights for a grand total of €34 euros and I don’t think we’ve made any compromises in doing so. So far we are blissfully contented and in the flow of adventure and joy.

A gathering where both the adults and children communicated in the languages of English, French, Spanish, food, wine, cheese, fun, play, laughter, culture and tradition. Our hosts are the purveyors of home made Pavlova’s in France so we were treated to Pav’s for dessert. There is nothing humble about a home made pavlova, topped with cream and whatever seasonal fruit is available. Divine. One of the guests also baked the gateaux basque – perfect on the day and perfect the next morning with coffee. It was cherry flavoured and made from a recipe handed down from a grandmother (as I’m told these recipes are) … not an easy one to replicate.

The evening ended with the kids playing The Game of Life. Do you remember this from your childhood? It’s a nostalgic one for me, I loved this game. My cousin had it – I always looked forward to playing it when we visited. There’s something special about being able to rock up with four kids and seeing their day end like this. My tribe of wanderlusters skipped contentedly back to the van once the evening concluded.

And now we leave to make our way towards San Sebastián our first stop in Spain. A beachy, foodie city and one we fell in love with on our last camper trip. It will be the last of the towns we know before making our way across the Nth of Spain. We knew last time we wanted to come back to swim in San Sebastián’s spectacular picturesque harbour one day. Here we are on the way. I never travel to see and do it all … that’s just not possible. Will we love it as much? Let’s see shall we.

Buen Camino,

Fran xx

Camper tips:

It took us months the first time around to switch on the gas! Yet when you do you are instantly more free in your choice of park ups. Camping on the street was possible for us because during the day we could switch our fridge to gas. If you’re reliant on electricity you always need a caravan park or motor home park up that supplies it. Filling gas bottles is not technically allowed but everyone does it and no one asks when you go in to pay. Most campers have the adapters for each country on board. Ask when you pick up the camper. And if unsure, You Tube how to fill the bottle if you’re comfortable doing it. That’s what greg did (among other camper things!). Not all service stations have gas so you need to plan for that. Or, alternatively you can buy new bottles along the way.

Summer Camper Trip – St-Jean Pied de Port, France.

In the foot hills of The Pyrenees, the last town in France where pilgrims traditionally stopped before heading towards Santiago de Compostela is where we’ve been. A heart filling stop in St-Jean Pied de Port. It is also the town where the 800km Camino Frances begins. It was good to be back.

There are some places I visit that I just know I will come back to. SJPdP was one of them. Back in April when I was here to begin my epic 800km hike for One Girl it was all new and unfamiliar and at the same time so charming and welcoming. There was a warmth here I wanted to feel again when I didn’t have walking a camino to consider.

This time around I saw a new side to it as I shared the experience with my family. We lucked upon Basque dancing and the tradition of a Palote match. I adore this about village life – traditions that are upheld. No matter what age there is a place for people.

We ate at the same restaurant I dined with my sister the night before and we wandered through ancient archway onto the Napoleon route across the Pyrenees. These arch ways which hundreds of thousands of people have walked through as set off or continue walking along ‘the way’ towards Santiago.

The motor home park while rundown was perfect for us! Lots of green space for kids to run and play ‘stick’ cricket. We’ve adjusted our travel over the years as our family has grown and accordingly with the children’s ages. I know what my kids can and can’t handle and we adapt. To be honest if travel with kids had no pleasure why do it? Space to run and time to play to be wild and free – so important. It also give us adults time to take in the wonder of finding ourselves in new experiences and be where we are. And after an excited day on le tour a down day was definitely in order.

Although not necessarily a sit down day for Z and I. We decided to hike up to Orisson. Orisson was the first stop on my camino. I wrote from there. It wasn’t a planned hike, nor was STJPdP a planned stop, our loose itinerary gives us room to steer itself. The hike was an 8km up the mountain in the hot sun kind of challenge. It was particularly special to do it with my daughter. A real moment in time we will both have forever. This wasn’t just any hike, this was the first stage of the camino … and we did it together.

Along the way we chatted about many things and at one time a wise eagle circled above us. Does this have some kind of symbolism? I’m not sure but it felt like it did. We shared a meal at Orisson, sitting at the same table I spent the afternoon with my sister at and Zoë signed the guest book.

The way down had less strain and I became her secret keeper as she opened up even more than usual. What a great privilege. We finished the hike closer than when we started. I know her a little better. And I know I’ve passed on something special to her. If the day comes that she needs to take a long walk – she knows where and how to begin.

As we leave today after Z’s egg on baguette cook up I say goodbye to a village that has given me so much. I don’t need to come back to SJPdP again. If I ever walk another camino I think it will be along another route. As my camino, this long walk of life continues, always, there are times of letting go, of leaving the past behind.

And so we move on towards an afternoon with friends … friends with a ‘french’ cave – I can hardly wait.

Buen camino dear ones,

Fran xx

Camper tips:

Perhaps you want to know what we travel with for the kids? They don’t always have to use sticks to entertain themselves :).

We have card games: uno, a plain old deck and top trump – anytime we go for a drink I pack these! They are never allowed on phones or tablets in cafes or over food and drinks. They have already begun epic tournaments. It warms my soul.

Tennis racquets and balls, a soccer ball, a dart board with balls that stick, twister, dominoes, pencils and paper and a game of Halli Galli. For the beach we have surfboards and a SUP. When we arrive they tend to take out what they want to play with and get themselves set up. We also have a pop up tent that they use to play in if it’s hot or raining.

Our oldest has a phone he can play games on, sans WIFI. We haven’t really camped anywhere with free access. His data is very limited so he has learnt to be careful with it (it must last the month). I like the idea that they go away without the need to communicate with home – they can catch up with friends when they return. It’s my greatest challenge teaching my kids to develop that freedom.

We also have a tablet with movies downloaded, mostly for long drives.

A commitment to kindness, adventure, travel and charity.

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