Category Archives: Overseas Trips

Adventures Down Under… But where’s the Camper?

LOOK OUT! Adventures Coming Down Under

OK, guys, I know this is a campervan blog, but campervanning is all about getting out there into the big wide world and having a few adventures, right?

So I thought some of you might be interested to know about Steve & my travels in Australia back in October – even if they weren’t in a campervan!

Last summer, we decided it was about time we took a decent bit of time off. We’d uhmed and ahhed over the past few years about going to Oz to visit friends & family there, so now it was time to get our act together and book a flight.

We went for a month, all told, and if you want to see some of what we got up to, here’s a snap I took of  Steve feeding the camels on my sister’s farm (I’ve left out the spider pix for now!)

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The minute we hit the airport, I began scribbling in my notebook and, by the end of our time in Australia, it was full to bursting with adventures & reflections from our travels. So it won’t surprise you that all this gadding about has inspired a new book which is planned for release some time this year.

Here’s the cover and a link to find out more. If you wish, you can also sign up to get New Release news so that you’ll hear when the book is released…

Up a Creek Down Under - book cover

UP A CREEK DOWN UNDER
Adventures in an Australian Homeland

Fun & quirky travel tales from the pen of Alannah Foley…

CLICK HERE for more on UP A CREEK DOWN UNDER


The Jacaranda Trail - ebook & paperback cover

My earlier travel book set in Australia is called The Jacaranda Trail. In a nutshell, it’s the story of a journey I made to my Australian birthplace back when I was in my twenties.

I stayed Down Under for five years & got much more than I bargained for, that’s for sure!

Discovering I had another sister… Living on a camel farm… Picnicking with kookaburras… And City Farming, to name a few things. I also found my long-lost grandmother who had left my mother in an orphanage from an early age.

Click below if you’d like to find out more about The Jacaranda Trail – it’s available in print as well as in digital

CLICK HERE for more on The Jacaranda Trail

I’m now about half way through a first draft of Up a Creek Down Under, so look out for more news on that as we near completion.

Meantime, I hope if you live in England, you’re not letting the weather get you down too much… Storms, wind, rain – and snow in some areas (chance for a bit of ‘Arctic campervanning’ for you tough nuts out there!)… In amongst it all, though, we usually get the odd sunny day, even if it is a bit nippy.

If you enjoyed reading the blog today, why not comment to say so below. Or maybe it’s sparked off some travel memories of your own Down Under!?

Anyway, take care, and I’ll be in touch again when I have more news.

All the best!

Alannah

BIO PIC CIRCLE PNG2

Alannah Foley
aka The Pyjama Writer
www.thePyjamaWriter.com

 

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Filed under Other Books/Reviews, Overseas Trips

Steve’s Cycle Shorts 7 – Tour of Flanders


Well, it’s been a while  since we went Bimblin’ Round Belgium in our campervan, and after writing the last post about our visit to the national cycling museum in Roeselare, Alannah has had trouble pinning me down to make my contribution towards another post.  Such is the Cycling Widow’s lot in the height of the cycling season!

In any case, this will be a long-awaited blog for many, and this time we’re checking out the Tour of Flanders cycle race, known in Dutch as the Ronde van Vlaanderen and in French as the Tour de Flandres.  (We hope it’ll be worth the wait, as there’s a little treat for readers a bit further on…)

SPEEDY SPORT SPOTTING

The Tour begins in Bruges and ends in Oudenaarde.  We heard that one of the Flemish ‘hobbies’ is to see how many times you can see the Tour riders along the route…  Hence, many pick a spot from which to watch the race, then once they’ve seen the riders go by, they speed off in their cars to another spot and do it all over again.

Whilst this might be fun for ‘youngsters’, the older folk amongst us might consider this a bit hazardous.  So it’s possible that this has influenced the new & controversial decision to change the course this year.  Now Tour riders  do the same loop three times at the end of the race, which means spectators are more likely to stay in the same spot.  These loops also include some of the most gruelling, steep & bumpy cobbled streets (called pavés).

IN THE WRONG LANE

Thinking Oudenaarde would be the best and most exciting spot to view the Sunday race, we headed there on the Friday.   After all, if we got there a few days early, surely we could recce the course before things got too busy and find a decent spot to camp out, right?  How wrong could we be!?

Turning up on the outskirts of Oudenaarde, we were amazed to see how many cyclists were already out on their bikes, eagerly pedalling along the route that would soon be covered by their cycling heroes.  Motorhomes had already begun to take up spots on the side of the fast-moving main road…  And as we turned into a side street, hoping to make our way to the Kwaremont – one of the famous pavés – our plans were scuppered as cyclists gradually swamped our campervan, and cars began coming along the narrow lane in the opposite direction.

TWILIGHT ZONE PARKING

Eventually we managed to reverse through the mire of cyclists and followed a sign for parking down another side street.  Now, most municipal parking signs point to car parks that are only a stone’s throw away.  Not here!  We ended up driving for a good few miles down what turned into a bumpy dirt track.  Had we entered the Twilight Zone of Belgium???

An hour or so later, our suspension was thankfully still intact, but we’d had enough and decided the ‘vibe’ at Oudenaarde was a bit too frenetic anyway.  We stayed overnight in an ‘aire’ (municipal parking place with facilities) in Harelbeke hoping to get some rest, and only managed to do so once our ‘noisy neighbours’ had quietened down.  Unfortunately, the aire was situated right next to the local football ground and they had a night-time game scheduled, with loud music & floodlights to boot.

WHEEL HEROES

The next day, we drove to Roeselare.  This is not only the home of the Wielermuseum (the topic of the last Steve’s Cycle Shorts) but one of the towns through which the Tour passes.  From our visit to the museum, it was clear just how important cycling has been to the Belgian culture.  The first Tour was held in 1913, and in the last ten years, 7 in 10 winners have been Belgian.

One of the staff members at the museum told us about the old French term Flandrien, used to describe riders (Flemish or not!) who are able to put up with all manner of hardship on the bike.  So, are you a Flandrien?

After checking out the museum, we recced the town with a view to finding a decent vantage point from which to watch the race the following day, plus parking place close by.

Now, for the rest of the story, we’ve got a little treat for you… a Tour of Flanders video which we’ve put on YouTube – with words, pictures & music.  So click on the link and enjoy!

PHOTO FINISH

As the barriers were being cleared away after the race, a photographer from the local newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad, came round taking photos of the spectators…  These are viewable online on their website, so if you like, click to view ours.

In conclusion, I thought the whole event was well organised & efficiently run.  At the end of the Tour, we understand there are beer-fuelled celebrations in the enormous marquees we saw in Oudenaarde, but somehow, we didn’t feel like we’d missed out on anything by watching the race in the lovely little town of Roeselare.

We hope you enjoyed the above video presentation, and there are a couple of other Campervan Capers videos on Alannah’s new Foley’s Forum Videos YouTube channel for you to check out if you haven’t already seen them.

COMING SOON…

At some point when Alannah can pin me down again, we’ll be putting together another  Steve’s Cycle Shorts story based in Cirencester, where I recently did a 100-mile time trial.  So stay tuned or subscribe to the blog if you don’t want to miss my two-wheeled escapades.

And there’s more…

If you’ve been following Steve’s Cycle Shorts for a while, you’ll probably already know that Alannah has written a book called Cycling Widows, but did you know she’s now released her Campervan Capers book?  It’s a light-hearted yet practical travel tale about our first year in the campervan.

Why not check them out, along with the other books on her website?

CLICK HERE to see what's on my shelf!

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Filed under Our Campervan Capers, Overseas Trips, Photography, Steve's Cycle Shorts

Steve’s Cycle Shorts 6 – A Day at the Museum

Back in March, you’ll remember that we went Bimblin’ Round Belgium in our campervan for a few weeks.  After visiting the French-speaking south of the country, we ventured on up to the Flemish-speaking north to check out the Tour of Flanders – and, of course, a trip to the national cycling museum in Roeselare was a must.

THE CYCLE OF TIME

The Wielermuseum‘s displays opened with the evolution of the bike, so we started off feeling as though we were walking through time, seeing the amazing changes in cycle innovations which have come & gone – and all within the short space of only about a century.  Most of the information was displayed in English as well as French & Flemish (in essence, Dutch) and everything was set out in a professional yet delightfully-simple way.

The first bicycle, the Loopfiets (aka ‘hobby horse’ or ‘running machine’) had rock solid wheels, as did all the earlier bikes.  These might not have been quite as hard as the kind you’d find on The Flintstones, but I’m sure riders must have breathed a sigh of relief when the rubber and pneumatic tyres finally came in.

DESIGN FEET

The Macmillan had a treadle-type setup to power you along.  Whilst it looked good, the design wasn’t the best, since your pedalling feet were likely to get caught in the front wheel when it was turned.  To me, the highlights were the four-seater ‘tandem’, the bike with a shaft-drive, and a two-seater contraption where riders sat side by side.  Try keeping your balance on that!

The Macmillan – Nice design but you could easily ‘put your foot in it’!


PHOTO FINISH

Still, you can’t beat actually experiencing what it must have been like riding one of these old bikes, so hopping onto the museum’s fixed Penny Farthing (no safety harness provided!) was a treat.  Press a button and your photo is taken as you pedal, then it’s posted online for you to view later (click here to see mine if you want a laugh).

At the back of the building was an impressive bicycle workshop, the contents of which were donated to the museum by the Hallaert family, famous for Belgian frame- and saddle-building.

CYCLING DOWN MEMORY LANE

Moving along, there were many inspiring exhibits of past Belgian cycling champions – including, of course, Eddy Merckx.  There was old footage of famous rides, cycling magazines, trophies; and many champions had also donated their winners’ jerseys and old bikes (probably would’ve ended up in landfill otherwise anyway).

Jean-Pierre Monséré (affectionately nicknamed Jempi), the famous Belgian rider who died in a head-on collision with a car, had a whole section dedicated to his life, and bits of his shattered bike were even on display.

BIKE TUNING

The finale of the tour was a jukebox with music linked to cycling (eg Tour de France by Kraftwerk).  We discovered that several of the past Belgian cyclists have clubbed together to release their own brand of cycling songs.  And as we went to have lunch back at the camper, parked only a stone’s throw from the museum, we were regaled with more Flemish cycling tunes booming from a speaker at the museum.  They reminded us a bit of bloky British football songs.  I’m sure they were meant to be inspiring, but if you ask me, I reckon the guys would be better off sticking to their cycling – ‘cos they sure ain’t gonna win any medals at singing!

WHEELY GOOD VALUE

My trusty Cycling Widow, Alannah, accompanied me around the exhibits and was surprised that the three hours we spent there had gone so quickly.  She hadn’t got bored once (at least that’s what she told me) – so it just goes to prove you don’t have to be a complete cycling nut to appreciate what’s on offer.  The staff at the Wielermuseum were most helpful (and spoke better English than we did Dutch) and, at a mere five euros, we thought the entrance fee was excellent value.

The following day was the Tour of Flanders race, and you can look forward to my next blog where I tell you all about our escapades there…  So tune in next time, or sign up to the blog to receive it automatically via email.


And there’s more…

If you’ve been following Steve’s Cycle Shorts for a while, you’ll probably already know that Alannah has written a book called Cycling Widows, but did you know she’s now released her Campervan Capers book?  It’s a light-hearted yet practical travel tale about our first year in the campervan.

Why not check them out, along with the other books on her website?

CLICK HERE to see what's on my shelf!

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Filed under Our Campervan Capers, Overseas Trips, Photography, Steve's Cycle Shorts

Bimblin’ Round Belgium

Destination: Belgium
Date: Mid March – Start April 2012

When you think of Belgium, what comes to mind?
Blond beer, fine chocolates, Hercules Poirot?

Well, in contrast to most folk, I’m no beer or chocolate lover, and Agatha Christie’s detective is a fiction, so when Steve & I took a trip to Belgium recently, it seemed we’d have to discover what else the little country had to offer.

The first part of our holiday was spent in the French-speaking south (aka Wallonia) and in the second part, we looped back up to the Flemish-speaking north to check out the Tour of Flanders cycle race.

As we went away for a few weeks, the blog would be pretty long if we mentioned everything.  So instead, I’ve distilled the experiences of our first campervan jaunt of the year somewhat…

ARRIVING A DAY EARLY for the ferry to Calais, we had time to kill…

So we biked up to South Foreland Lighthouse at Dover.

The lighthouse has protected many (but by no means all) ships from being sucked into the sand banks around the bay.  From the lighthouse, you can see a white house in a distant cove – apparently it used to be owned by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.

Our tour guide reckoned the local bus Ian Fleming used to take was the number 007!  Hmm…  Can’t see it myself…  Wouldn’t he have had his own car?  An Aston Martin per chance?

MAP CRAZY

Only as we journeyed down to the south of Belgium did we realise our map of Europe was wholly ‘unfit for purpose’.  We got pretty dizzy (not to mention stressed) circling the town of Mons several times, but finally managed to escape and find an ‘aire’ to stay on overnight.

In essence, aires are municipal parking places for tourists.  Some have facilities for motorhomes such as water, toilets, waste emptying, etc.  They are apparently abundant in France, but there are fewer elsewhere on the continent.

From here on in, we did lots of bimblin’ about, so rather than give you a blow-by-blow account of our hols, here are a few photo collages to give you a flavour and show you the highlights:

CAVE VISITS

The forested region of south Belgium known as the Ardennes is rich in limestone caves.  Prior research revealed that many are closed, or have limited opening times, out of the main holiday season, so we ‘only’ managed to visit a handful.

No picture can really do justice to the impressive formations which have been created over thousands upon thousands of years.  Still, to illustrate what you might find underground, here are some photos taken in several of the caves…

Caves visited: Han-sur-Lesse, Remouchamps, Hotton, Neptune, Dinant and Folx-les-Caves (the latter is a manmade cave with no limestone formations).

RELAXED PITCH

Normally, we move from place to place when we’re travelling.  But after a busy few months prior to our holiday, we were up for some R’n’R.  So when we found the Chateau Dieupart site at Remouchamps (near Liege), we decided to book in for a week…

Our pitch was right alongside the river and there was also plenty of scope for bike riding and walking.

NINGLINSPO

A short drive away was Ninglinspo.  Sounds like a made-up tongue-twister or a song by the Goons, but it is in fact the name of a river.  The surrounding area is a mix of evergreen and deciduous forest with cycling and walking trails running through it…

LOCAL FARE

… And of course, it was only polite to check out the Belgian fare at the local market and shops.  The Aywaille market near Remouchamps may not have been that big, but we found plenty of interest: cheeses with names like ‘dent du chat’ (cat’s tooth…?), breads of a size fit for a giant, and rows of potted flowers that looked pristine enough to rate in the Chelsea Flower Show.

HEALTH & SAFETY GONE MAD…?

Sad as it sounds, we got quite excited with the supermarket’s bread-slicing machine.  You just select a bread you fancy, place it lovingly into the machine, and out comes a freshly-sliced loaf baked that morning.

Couldn’t imagine having anything like it in England, what with the ‘Health & Safety gone mad’ theme running…  I did get some curious looks from the staff as I took a photo of the machine – nearly backing into an electricity socket poking up from the middle of the floor as I did so.  A rather laissez-faire attitude if you ask me!  😉

We also loved the fresh bread “vending machines” dotted round, the fact that they sell frozen veg in boxes and not plastic bags, and  obviously, we had to try out some of the patisserie delights

Bread “vending machines”. Am I the only one who thinks this looks a bit like a Tardis?

Well, that just about covers the first part of our trip in south Belgium…  and Steve’s Cycle Shorts will be back on the blog shortly to cover the second part of our holiday in the north.  So stay tuned for the low-down on Belgian cycling at large, the Tour of Flanders and the infamous cycling museum, the Wieler Museum, in Roeselare.

If you prefer to receive the blog automatically whenever we post, see the panel to the right of the blog & sign up to receive Campervan Capers in your email inbox…

 

You can also read about our adventures in my book Campervan Capers. Available at all major outlets online. Click here for more info.

CAMPERVAN CAPERS

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Filed under Our Campervan Capers, Overseas Trips