Tag Archives: Mountains

Summer Camper Trip – Posada de Valdeón, Spain

‘And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.’ – Pico Lyer

My love affair with travel extends far beyond the beauty of new places and people. I have no bucket list. I have a lust for the affair. And it’s no wonder I’ve created a life that has revolved around this affair. Without it my soul is starved – without adventure there’s no oxygen. However, the great climax of this affair is the never ending path it opens up. The next adventure. The return to life with new perspectives and motivations. And let’s face it most of us still need to return to a routined, stable life. We do! With four kids, two of high school age, a mortgage and retirement to think about.

It has always felt indulgent and privileged to write about and experience travel in the way I do. I’ve decided to not allow that to hold me back from exploring it in writing. In the past I have. And I believe I must because I’m all about living life (everyday life) as an ongoing adventure filled with exploration and growth. To ignore the influence travel plays in my life is not the whole story, not my story. I never want to contribute to a landscape of encouraging people to lust after something, but rather to find their own way. Yet, so much of who I am comes from my need to wander and why. My desire to wander daily with love and lust for the beauty of life. All of life.

These past few years have been quite an expedition. Mostly, I’ve embraced the notion of finding freedom, of removing the shackles of expectations. And of releasing myself from what I thought life would or should look like. In these mountains – the Picos de Europa I leapt froward. I hiked on my own (which I do) and as I was enraptured by the wild beauty, scared (of the wild boars) when I started walking through a bracken covered dense trail, hurt when I fell on my back descending the mountain and strengthened when I navigated the map – I was also completely at peace. At peace with the joy, unknown, fear and pain.

I was as close to myself as I could get out there in those mountains. And I didn’t sleep that night … rather, I lay awake. Not awake over analyzing thoughts but excited by new thoughts and ideas. Excited about what comes next for me. This next transition as I choose to leave doubts behind and become a stronger woman. A warrior woman who hugs fear. On that mountain fear become my mirror and for me, staring at fear is as honest as it gets.

What a delightfully endearing town this is. A place where the children could play in our €10 per night camper spot surrounded by mountains. The children were invited to play soccer with locals. A place where we met a camper family from NZ who had been on the road for 17 months! We were so enthralled by their stories, particularly their love of Sardinia and their generosity in sharing their experiences. I finished reading a manuscript written by a friend, what a sacred privilege, it had me inspired and dreaming of possibilities in my own kitchen and garden. I was taken with the locals working and playing with their hands. And that strikes me as something we need to consider – what we doing with our hands. One thought I’ll be taking forward with me.

Buen Camino lovelies,

F xx

Camper tips:

Cosy! Don’t forget COSY. You can have movie nights, snuggle and make TUE popcorn. Sometimes if you’re lucky and there’s a restaurant in view you can leave your kids to watch the movie and dine out on scrumptious, local fare. Of course the first setting isn’t until 9pm – because Spain!

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.

Summer Camper Trip – The Pyrenees, France.

Woo – hoo we have been adventuring up high! Parked up and camping in a village at 1,700m altitude. We’ve had the luxury of mountain views, hikes, hundreds no thousands of bikes, great company (new friends) and a full moon to remind us just how amazing this life is. I may have also begun to nail how being organised and spontaneity can hold hands without hurting each other.

Last time I left you we were driving through fields of sunflowers towards The Pyrenees. We made our way to Saint Gaudens, not a town to explore but a great overnighter with green space and mountain views. A cool €8 for the night and each site has electricity and its own water supply! Most motor home sites have electricity (the cheaper paid ones) but individual water taps are a bonus. Private caravan parks tend to have a water tap per site. We’re trying to avoid these and keep our accommodation simple and budget. More money for cheese and basically we don’t need it – the luxury is in the camp life. Oh and unlike most things French that are sexy the road tolls definitely aren’t! They are sexy without the ‘s’.

Our plans were to head into the mountains and move between stage 17 and 18 of Le Tour de France. We had such a brilliant time last year watching a stage in the Jura mountains. Camping on a mountain means no electricity and minimal shops so first we needed to get organised! Hello to the beauty of the one stop shop in France. A place to shop, wash, empty facilities, top up water if needed and to refuel.

After sorting ourselves and organising the above with a stop at an Intermarche (one stop shop) we were off again. The rivers and villages in the mountain valleys are some of the prettiest I’ve ever seen. I always feel that all is right in the world when I drive through these beauties. The rivers sparkle with a fresh kind of beauty as they flow away from the mountains and through the towns.

We anticipated parking up to watch the cyclists at the peak of the last climb but as we started driving up the mountain we soon realised we weren’t alone. Every available piece of mountain that could be parked on … was being parked on! We drove up, and then we drove down then the other side. There were a few square metres of available mountain space. But, in the end we decided it wouldn’t be fun parking on them for 24 hours if it meant that we needed to confine our four kids for safety!

Onward. We’d go to the next stage and be a day ahead! Guess where we ended up … back at the Intermarche. Yes, we had to drive back up and over the mountain and into the village with the one stop shop. I’m not usually a fan of dryers (environmentally and for care of clothes) but given that we still had an afternoon of driving ahead it was a smart move. We stopped made our lunch, baguettes of course (France) and popped the freshly washed clothes (from the morning stop) in to dry.

After a long day we made it! Up into the ski village of Saint-Lacy. Parked up between two campers with GB plates (English but living in France) we put the fridge on gas (it charges on the car battery as we drive) and popped a few beers in the freezer. The gas can also heat the water so we have access to warm showers. Sorry digressing … after the beers went in the freezer, the awning went up and camp set up we set off into the village to stretch our legs and explore.

Ski villages are hives of good energy in summer, full of adventuring types. Add that a stage of the Tour de France is about to pass through and it’s a village buzzing with the excitement vibe. The village was packed with campers and tents – literally wherever they could fit! All respectfully parked up without any charges. Seriously €0 for three nights accommodation with those mountain views . While wandering we happened on the last of the Monday market and bought a local cake. A Pyrenean specialty, Gateau à La Broche, or a cake cooked on a spit. You can read more about this type of deliciousness here.

Yes the hills are alive here in The Pyrenees. There are many hikes in and around the ski resort and we decided we’d hike up to the Col de Portet where the tour will pass through just before the finish line the next day. I also need to get some training under my belt for my upcoming #hikeforonegirl challenge in September.

By now our kids know we are going to hike them when we travel and even when we don’t ;). The little one fought it a bit at the beginning, perhaps it was the uphill as far as the eye could see. With a set of hiking poles and some gentle herding from his papa he was mightily pleased to have made it up to the 2100m Col (saddle) for our lunch break (ps we have that sign on board as a souvenir). Notice the family setting up camp there! Their kids are smaller than ours. Lunch was a brief stop as the clouds were turning. As we headed down the mountain we were graced with the fun of a brief hail storm. Mountains really are the boss and can change weather on a whim. Lucky we had rain jackets in our day packs. (Husband is always prepared).

Nights are super cosy in the camper! We tend to stay in nature where it’s generally quiet and the air is fresh. It’s quite conducive to dreaming … each night I’m having the longest most bizarre dreams. It’s a good thing to be dreaming at night I think. The food is fresh and home made. It’s so nice when the days are long and food becomes a treat not a chore … and it’s super nice when the French living Brits from the surrounding campers join you for an after dinner wine and life, travel chat.

Aah and then what we came to this mountain for! Stage 18 of Le Tour De France. What an amazing day. Cyclist husband was peaking with excitement and answering all of our questions (including those from the new friends from the GB camper who spent the day with us) … the guy (husband) has been watching Le Tour for as long as I can remember. Expert.

There was fanfare and freebies! And characters that made us laugh. But nothing quite beat standing alongside the tour as the riders made their way up the mountain a whisker away from us. That was something special. Afterwards we made our way down and wandered past the tour busses. The kids were excited to see Chris Froome on his bike cooling down and even more pleased to be gifted the riders water bottles from the team Sky bus. It was a little nerve wracking having my kids in the media scrum but they thought it was fun! The FULL experience.

If the Tour de France is something you want to experience, a mountain stage is unreal! Up close and personal plus they don’t race past at 60kms an hour just a leisurely 25kms! I’m not joking – these guys are unreal. Husband managed to cheer each Aussie on by name as they past him – sounded like they were old mates. :)

This morning it was time to leave our mountain park up and drive towards new adventures. We’ve arrived in the town of St Jean Pied de Port, sound familiar? It should! It’s where I started the camino back on April. I’m excited to share this town with its great historical and personal significance with my family … and perhaps take them on a little wander up the first section of the camino. Although first they’re origami’ing as the washing dries on the bonus washing line while Greg heads out to find some decent phone coverage for a work call. A bit like a home day!

Now we’re up to date friends and just in time to roll into some new stories. And briefly about routine and organisation – I’ve been resisting them the past couple of years thinking they prevented me from being spontaneous and free. But really the two can hold hands can’t they. I found that day in day out on the camino. We stopped to be organised to camp on the mountain and that didn’t stop us from changing plans and rolling with them when the first mountain was full, we spontaneously adapted … and because we were organised it was easy. No, routine and spontaneity aren’t mutually exclusive – perhaps it is in the combination of both that gives us freedom. One is not more important than the other … that’s my lesson.

Buen camino dear ones. I’ve got to keep moving and hit some tennis balls with the littlest one!

Fran xx

Camper tips:

Clothes!

Don’t pack too many. Obviously it depends on the season but for instance one jumper and a good wind, rain jacket is often enough. How many times do we pack something just in case … and then never wear it. Put them straight away once they come off the line or out of the dryer. Have a dedicated washing bag again I brought ours from home. Bring pegs and rope for a line. Last time we stopped in caravan parks for our wash stops. Now we put a load on when we do the shopping and hang in the camper park. It’s €8 for an 18kg wash the same as a caravan park yet staying in a camper park is €8 compared to a minimum €30 in a caravan park for the night. It’s like anything – we get better the more we practice!

All our kids have a cube for socks and jocks. When choosing a camper do look at storage … it makes such a difference. If you can hang everyone’s t shirts up in one spot it makes choosing and rotating simple. I also hang the t’s on hangers on the lines so they go straight to the cupboard. I do that at home to.

Writing from El Acebo – Day 21

Back in the mountains! Apparently the camino will make you cry the books said. For some those tears may be sad tears and they may also be happy tears. These mountains they bring me so much joy, a joy that’s so profoundly deep I feel sad and happy and love, mostly love. And the gift of those feelings – tears.

Days on the Camino – 21

Kms – Today 30 kms.

Starting point today – Santa Catalina, Spain.

End of the day – El Acebo, Spain.

Number of girls in Africa educated – 23

Total funds raised so far – $6995.00. Goal is $10 per km so $7,690.00 just $695 to go!

If you’d like to contribute you can do so here.

Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to – My brothers. Both of you. I love everything about the childhood we shared, the fun, the fights, the games and the fact that you always trusted me – your big sister. You’ve both grown into bloody good men and I treasure being an aunty to your kids and a sister to your wives, even though I’m crap at birthdays and such things. I’d like to say I’ll get better at that but I’m sure that won’t happen.

Accommodation – No booking today! We chanced it (with Ansett, Aussie joke). Since Leòn there are many more villages and accommodation choices. León is a popular starting point for many with its 311km route into Santiago. We walked straight into a twin room in this mountain town at 1,000 metres altitude. (€22.50 each with breakfast).

Food highlight – Yesterday we didn’t eat enough! That always results in tiredness. So today when there was toast on offer at our albergue we started the day with the mandatory banana plus toast and coffee. I would have preferred a few eggs but the simplicity of toast and jam was still ridiculously satisfying. You can’t always get toast here!

We decided to take the time to have lunch in the first mountain village Foncebadón in this new range we’re climbing. If you’ve ever read any camino books this was the deserted town with wild dogs that everyone feared! It’s no longer scary, it has a cool hippy vibe. There was even yoga at the albergue we had lunch. It would have been a great place to stay I think.

Oh and asparagus is showing up in the dishes instead of peppers so I guess it’s the new regional specialty. It’s quite different to what we’re used to in Aussie. I like these better, they are layered like a leek but quite sweet. And please don’t go there with the arrangement of the salad plate – I know what you’re thinking.

In a word(s) – A lucky sister.

Today we arrived at the iron cross – La Cruz de Ferro. Traditionally this is where pilgrims throw a rock brought from their home to symbolize their journey. I might not be religious but I’m a little superstitious. I brought a tiny rock from my home in Holland and my sister and I had also collected a pine cone along the way to symbolize our family home. In the summer my dad always decorates the open fire place with pine cones from the gazillion pine cones out the front.

My family was on my mind today. Not my little people and my great love, those crackers are fine at home with said great love; their super dad and my super husband. I’ll see them all every day again soon and we’ll be having pjs and all day couch cuddles. No, today the family I grew up in was on my mind.

I presumed if I missed a family I would miss my own but today it was the family on my mind that I missed. I even shed a tiny tear, don’t worry it was a good tear, a happy tear. It shows how much I love them and it reminds me that we’re still very connected and I need them … even with the distance between us.

We had a late start this morning eating breakfast before we started and ‘what’s ap’ing’ our brothers. One brother each. I know they would love this walk. Perhaps this beautiful gift of freedom, of being small in a big beautiful world and the simplicity of this life reminds me of my childhood. That time when you are lost in your head without a care in the world. Where you’re closest to yourself and your siblings are your best mates and your parents are your everything.

Here I am climbing mountains with my sister and today I wanted to feel close to my brothers and my parents. So I did. I thought a lot about them. People are walking this trail for many reasons. Some, like me come without expectations unsure of what the trail will offer them but open to what finds them. This day surprised me.

I’m not sure what the point of this story is. So I’m struggling to conclude it! But I need to sleep so I have to. As this camino continues the things that are surfacing are not things I’ve thought a lot about so the writing is getting harder. Simplicity, slow days, transition, letting go, gratitude I can write about those thoughts till the cows come home – those lessons I’d learnt before the camino, are well practiced in my life and they’re easy for me to spot with analogy’s.

This one is something bigger. I suspect it’s to do with a story I heard on this camino of why a family it walking towards this cross. So I’ve laid it out here briefly and now I will let it sit.

Buen Camino,

Fran xx

Writing from Los Arcos – Day 6

I’ve been watching how people use their arms as they walk. Some have their hands in their pockets, some hold tightly to the straps on their packs and some swing their arms freely. I’m trying to swing my arms … when I let go of holding my pack and let my arms go there’s a nice rhythm. A rhythm that’s in tune with my legs, the landscape, the moment. I wonder if what we’re doing with our arms when we walk relates to how we do life? Gripping tightly, hiding or swinging freely and confidently – with purpose.

Days on the Camino – 6

Kms – 30 kms. Total is around 145.2kms!! I’m still blister free thankfully. The heat rash thing on feet is back … hot, long day.

Starting point today – Lorca, Spain.

End of the day – Los Arcos, Spain .

Number of girls in Africa educated – 19

Total funds raised so far $5,980.00. If you’d like to contribute you can do so here.

Frances Antonia – Do it in a dress.

Thanks for the help Kimmy from the Women Who Hike team.

Today was dedicated to

Kimmy, a pilgrim and friend. Someone I met on Instagram, a fellow hiker. The first person to ensure that one girl received an education and the one who showed me I could actually do this! Sometimes it takes one person to inspire us, to propel us forward beyond our doubts. Your support very early on did that Kimmy! And look where we are … on a camino with nearly 20 girls in school next year. Buen Camino friend – you’ll find your way to Santiago. xx

Accommodation – This albergue Casa Alberti in the town of Los Arcos I’m unsure of. I’ll put the name in tomorrow when we leave. It’s a bed for the night (€10) and there are only 6 of us here in a 12 person room so bonus. It doesn’t look like there are snorers, we’ve been super lucky with that. For the first time I’ve pulled the bug sheet out. Purposely bought from Travel Safe (with a discount) on account of my allergies to bites and because of its light weight. I haven’t felt the need to get it out before tonight. This place doesn’t feel loved and I just read a review from two weeks ago that mentioned bites. I wish I’d checked that earlier.

Food highlight – Ordering a local speciality and not knowing what would come out! It was an omelette with chorizo on a baguette, delish … but massive. The owner wrapped half for us to take on the road. I love that no one has taken advantage of us. It would be easy to provide crappy service because pilgrims are not returning customers … we stay one night, eat one meal, buy one coffee and we walk.

In a word(s) – Wondering how life after 30kms a day will feel.

There’s a lot of time to notice what’s happening when you walk the camino. A lot of rhythmic walking where thoughts roll in and out as opposed to round and round. People of all ages, nationalities and all with their own purpose.

The paths were quieter today. The flow of pilgrims seems to have spread out. My sister and I walked together and alone for parts. Up until lunch time we only passed four or so.

There are a few pilgrims we’ve been crossing paths with and today many appeared through the day either along the path or in the town we landed in. It’s the organic flow that happens on the camino dictated by timing, there’s probably something spiritual in that. Maybe the camino is starting to weave it’s magic on me.

Those cracker American brothers from day 3 are in town tonight making us laugh! As are our German friends the yin and yang – the pace setter and the gentle one who smells the flowers.

Earlier in the camino I chatted with a man, I’ll call him Will. Will had 20kgs on his back. His sleeping bag weighed seven of those kilos. He was puffing up the hill and he was wondering what he could do without in his pack. I remember thinking we will all learn to be lighter on this camino. We will all lose something that weighs us down and holds us back.

It’s part of the challenge. A camino is spectacularly beautiful as I’m sure you can see by the photos :) and the people are collectively the BEST people. But it’s challenging.

Physically we all have different capacities but we all push harder each day, comfort zones are pushed … I’m writing in a bottom bunk, next to a snorer zipped in a net because I’m in a dodgy hostel tonight! Because that’s how I’m doing my camino, light in my backpack and without plans and bookings but needing to be disciplined with writing. Will, he came to be less disciplined with work! Yes the camino will challenge you but it will also reward you. One doesn’t come without the other does it?

Today brought mountains to climb, fields of green and yellow, castles on hilltops, butterflies and birdsong, a wine fountain (yes, an actual wine fountain) ancient towns, deliciously simple food and people; kind, funny and gentle people. It’s not hard to swing your arms as you walk.

Buen Camino,

Fran x