VAN MEALS.

47141221_2272775942741717_3555044731270463488_nWhen it comes to van meals we generally tried to stick to meals that were vegetarian, easy to cook, nutritious and of course cheap! We both ate meat when living back in Australia however we decided to transition to a vegetarian based diet not long after travelling in the van. Primarily this choice was because it was cheaper and avoided having to worry about appropriate storage and refrigeration of meat. Later we noticed it also makes us feel and function better. Not to mention the environmental benefits of having a plant based diet and reducing consumption of animal (and dairy) products. This blog post ain’t about preaching a diet, however it does feel good knowing that something so simple as a shift in dietary habits can help reduce our carbon footprint.

So what did we eat in the van? (A question so commonly asked by others).

Surprisingly, we managed to maintain a healthy and somewhat varied diet whilst travelling on the road for the last six months. Anyone that has travelled extensively before knows that this can be challenging at times, particularly when visiting countries that are underdeveloped. Produce availability and food prices vary largely from country to country however with consideration, a little extra planning and creativity it is possible to eat well whilst on a budget.

In fact, we both believe our diets have actually improved whilst living in the van when compared to back home in Australia. I’ve always been somewhat conscious of consuming a healthy diet however up until now i’ve always been more interested in exercise and sports. Whilst travelling my interest in food and nutrition has definitely increased however I attribute the main reason to our improved diet to the need for planning. Back home on the Gold Coast I had five supermarkets, two health food stores, and countless cafes/coffeeshops all within walking distance of my home. Talk about convenient and spoilt for choice. Not to mention the major fast food chains and endless takeaway options! Consequently, little to no planning went in to what meals I was going to make for the week as I knew I could always grab lunch on the go if i had to, pop to the grocery store on the way home from work or eat out if all else (including motivation) failed.

This changed quickly once we started living in the van for the following reasons:

  • The fridge was very small and therefore the amount of items you can fit in is limited (plus Blake’s beers always seemed to get priority)!
  • The van kitchen consisted of a one burner gas cooker.
  • We were on a budget.
  • Produce availability and quality varied from country to country.
  • We generally had no set plan which meant that we didn’t know if we would be wild camping in the mountains for four nights without services or parked up in a small coastal town with only one small and over priced convenience store.
  • We no longer had the convenience to access food like we did at home. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: SUPERMARKETS AND TOWNS ARE SHUT ON SUNDAYS IN EUROPE! I’ve lost count of how many times we got caught out with this.
  • Time. Although we had plenty more free time given that we went from full time jobs to unemployment we wanted to spend all of our time exploring. (Turns out if we took the extra time to organise and prepare set meals for the week we could then go to the supermarket once and shop in bulk which then freed up time for the rest of the week so we could get on doing more of the fun stuff!).

Van life tips & tricks:

  • I always tried to stock up the van cupboards with plenty of canned vegetables, legumes and non perishables. I would create “cupboard meals” which were completely made up of non perishable food items. This allowed us to continue to travel with no set plan. If we wanted to wild camp in an isolated destination for an extended period of time we could do so without going hungry or worrying about what services would be available or if power wasn’t an option.
  • One pot meals became a priority. Van meals aren’t being plated up for an episode of Master Chef. They’re ticking boxes remember: vegetarian, easy to cook, nutritious and cheap!
  • We became savvy at grocery shopping. You really can save a lot of money if you pay attention to prices and brands and shop at discount supermarkets or directly from the farmer/road side stalls. Where possible we shopped at LIDL (best thing since sliced bread. There’s free wifi and a customer toilet at each store.) and always ensured we went for the cheaper LIDL branded items. We also tried hard not to buy bottled water and instead found water refill points to fill up our 20 litre water container.
  • We became more creative in the kitchen and less picky with what we ate. Simple  meals with fewer ingredients doesn’t mean less flavour.
  • We became more organised with grocery shopping. I always took the time to plan meals & write a grocery list. Otherwise it’s easy to fall in the trap of buying unnecessary items or buying items that don’t make a “meal”.
  • Shopping frequency depended greatly on the season. Fruit and vegetables not kept in the fridge spoilt very quickly in the European heat wave and therefore we shopped more regularly when compared to the Winter months. In the cooler months it became so cold that the entire inside of our van resembled a fridge & therefore food could be left without refrigeration.
  • Ensure you have healthy snacks on hand (fruit, nuts & seeds, muesli bars, crackers, tea & coffee), particularly on long driving days. Otherwise you’re generally left to overpriced service stations, fast food chains or unwanted intermittent fasting.

Generally speaking when we visited cities we usually ate out and splurged a little more than usual (after all, eating out and trying new cuisines is one of the best parts of travelling) however most regular days we cooked in the van to save money. We also regularly frequented bakeries as I could never go without good quality fresh bread. In the Summer time when travelling along the coastline seafood was never passed up easily. If I got a whiff of fresh seafood on the grill, we were in line for the next available table. The great quality and cheap prices (when compared to home) were too good to resist.

Here are our most common van meals we had on rotation. Blake has tried and tested and approved of all! Note well: vegetable cous cous has purposely been omitted from the list and will never be attempted again as it was voted “worst van meal by far” by Blake and thrown in the bin by the chef. Turns out it’s not the rice so nice they named it twice (at least not when I attempted it).

BREAKFAST:

  • Not pictured: breakfast burgers/wraps (with fried egg, mushrooms, tomato & avocado).

LUNCH:

  • Not pictured: Tuna & salad wraps, pre packaged salads from the supermarket, vegetable sticks with hummus and rice cakes/seeded crackers and bean tomato soup (canned tomatoes, canned corn, canned beans of some description, seasoned with Mexican spices). 

DINNER:

  • Not pictured: Teriyaki egg noodle stir fry with veg, Vietnamese noodle bowls (rice paper noodles, fresh salad & Vietnamese dipping sauce), veg soup with added canned veg, cheese platter with hummus & veg sticks. 

SNACKS:

  • We’re not overly huge on snacks but we always make sure we have fresh fruit & fruit & nut mix on hand. Other favourites include veg sticks & hummus or rice cakes & hummus. And let’s be honest we also consumed our fair share of unhealthy snacks such as cookies (blame Blake), chips (blame me) & bakery treats! We’re only human. 

If you’re doing a similar trip (or even if you’re just stuck for ideas at home) I hope you can find this post helpful in some way. Also, if you’ve got your own easy & budget friendly meals to share I’d love to know.

December in Chamonix.

Processed with VSCO with c7 presetDecember 1st 2018 marked the last day of our van life journey. It was a sad day as we caught a flight out of Amsterdam, saying goodbye and leaving our beloved Rover (our VW T4 Westfalia) in storage as he awaits his next owners. On the contrary it was also an exciting day full of anticipation and the unknown as we embarked on our next adventure, living life in the snow. We touched down at Geneva Airport, Switzerland mid morning and had some time to kill before getting our connecting shuttle bus to Chamonix, in the French Alps. Naturally we passed the hours people watching and ordered croissants and espressos as an ode to our new French lifestyle.

We arrived in Chamonix mid afternoon, picked up the keys to our cosy apartment and quickly began unpacking and settling in. Thankfully the online photographs of the apartment held true to it’s real life self and we couldn’t have been more happy with it. It’s situated on the ground floor, smack bang in the centre of town and boasts a backyard which is much more than your standard seasonal accommodation. To others our one bedroom studio apartment may seem small but not to us.  Compared to the van, our new living set up was like walking in to a superior penthouse suite. After six months of travelling in the van we now had a new appreciation on the smaller everyday modern conveniences like heating, standing height and a bathroom – our new life seemed luxurious. The apartment came fully furnished and including a small television. We rarely ever watched television and decided we weren’t about to start now. After living in the van we have realised that our needs are basic and we wish to continue to live in a simplistic and minimalist way, finding enjoyment living without all the clutter of modern life. We immediately stowed the television away in the cupboard and let the art piece it was covering take prime position on our lounge room mantle piece. It is a beautiful piece of art, a fine line drawing of a voluptuous woman. Tres chic!

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We spent the first month settling in, meeting new friends, exploring the town and securing a job for the season. We are working casually in house keeping, cleaning rented holiday apartments and expensive chalets. Thankfully I have overcome my phobia of kitchen dishcloths from younger years. Although I will never forget my older brother chasing me around the house and tormenting me by throwing a dirty dishcloth in my face! (But seriously, how many germs are on those things!? Hello, E. coli and Salmonella.) It’s the first sort of revenue we’ve had in over six months and although the pay isn’t wonderful (particularly given how ridiculously expensive everything is here), the job has plenty of perks.

We manage our own properties and have plenty of flexibility with working hours which allows us to get up on the mountain nearly every day, or second day. Our property listings are scattered throughout town so it’s been good to get a lay out of the land and gain insight into French lodgings and the local property market. We also get to keep any of the food, alcohol or household items left behind by the guests that check out. There’s limited social interaction with people which is a stark contrast to my prior job, so for now I’m enjoying the change and long periods of silence. The team consists of people from all over (England, Spain, Czech Republic) but everyone is young, welcoming and nice. Although I’ve only been working for a short period I’ve learnt the following:

  • Not everybody shares the same OCD tendencies as Blake and I. In fact, most humans are really gross, particularly what they do behind closed doors.
  • Women shed A LOT of hair. Or long haired brunettes do.
  • Lots of people cut their fingernails/toenails whilst on vacation. Fine, if you dispose of them in the bin like a normal person but not when you leave them on the kitchen bench or clog up the drain which then becomes my problem (YUCK).
  • The majority of men appear to have significant difficulty with successfully urinating in the toilet bowl. If men are “so good at sports” then why don’t they display the coordination and precision to execute this everyday task.
  • Humans struggle to use a microwave. Or lots of people on vacation decide to use microwaves for their science experiments. They must be conducting first hand research on who can make the largest voluminous food eruption. Kind of sounds fun. But not for the cleaner (me). Do it at home, not on holiday.
  • The most common food/household items left behind are: butter, olive oil, eggs, toilet paper, cheese and beer. However we’ve also scored more costly items such as pistachios, avocados, French wine & gourmet chocolates (ok, these were actually leftover from the guests welcome pack but we’ll keep that between us!).

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Unfortunately, as I sit here and reflect it appears I’ve learnt more about cleaning in the last month than I have about the French language. Prior to moving here I had great plans for weekly French lessons and independent learning. I imagined my days sitting in cafes, sipping espressos and mixing with the locals, which would vastly improve my language skills. At night I would read, write and pour myself a glass of French wine whilst learning to cook new meals. Only the latter holds true and this is far from the reality of my life. However I have mastered the basics and am confidently able to engage with shop keepers all in the native tongue. I do this on a daily basis when I buy my fresh baguette from the boulangerie across the road. In fact, there are two boulangeries across the road from our apartment and I’ve become a known regular at both so that’s good enough for me!

Chamonix, the town itself is beautiful and the alps act as a stunning backdrop. There’s beauty everywhere from the snow capped trees and infamous glaciers to the wooden chalets and Christmas lights that decorate the main streets of town. Chamonix is one of the oldest ski resorts in France and when compared to other snow towns it’s relatively large. Unlike a ski in ski out town you generally have to catch a bus from the centre of town to one of the various surrounding mountains (Brevent, Flegere, Grand Montets, Les Houches, Balme Vallorcine). Once at the foot of the mountains you hop straight on a cable car which whisks you up to the top – from here it’s truly another world to explore! Chamonix is renowned for its steep pistes and challenging slopes making it popular with skiers (skiing is much more common than snowboarding here) and mountain enthusiasts from all over the world. Many people flock to the “extreme capital of the world” to partake in climbing, off piste skiing, paragliding and wing suiting. Personally I’m happy with my snowboard and the groomers for now!

I’m absolutely loving snowboarding and have fortunately picked it up quickly considering the last time I hopped on a board was over five years ago. I completely understand the addiction of mountain life. I also now understand that the “Jackson Hole” sticker on my board (bought off a friend) refers to a place rather than a person! One afternoon when we were in the gondola coming down the mountain after a day of snowboarding we got talking to an American girl. She saw the sticker on my board and enthusiastically shouted “Oh, I love Jackson Hole!” to which I replied “Oh, this is my friends old board so it’s not actually my sticker”. We changed direction of the conversation but continued to happily chat away for the rest of the journey.

When we stepped out of the gondola and bid farewell I turned to Blake and immediately asked “Who’s Jackson Hole?”. He burst out laughing and kindly informed me that it was a place not a professional snowboarder as I had assumed! Good to know. My snowboard knowledge is improving rapidly! Haha. We returned home feeling tired but stoked from another great day on the mountain and cracked open a backyard beer to kick start apres. The novelty of leaving beers outside in the snow still hasn’t worn off. They are always perfectly chilled and ready for consumption. Maybe this is the reason our intake has increased?

The month of December seemed to whiz past in a flash so I’m wishfully hoping that the next few months are slower paced and savoured. We’ve planned a trip to Paris, have Copenhagen and Malmo on our radar and family and friends booked in to stay with us from Australia so there’s plenty to look forward to but for now as I sit perched near the heater in my underwear, staring at the snow fall outside whilst enjoying a cup of tea I feel completely content. Until the next post,

Faz x

A list of favourites.

46503838_360556441182263_7995538837952528384_nWhenever I speak to family and friends back home or fellow travellers on the road one of the first questions asked is always “what has your favourite place been?”. To me this question is very difficult to answer. I’m indecisive on the best of days (particularly with food. And yes I understand my inability to decide between whether to have a plain or chocolate croissant is a serious first world problem) but that’s not the reason why I struggle to answer what my favourite place has been. To simply answer just one favourite place is far too broad!

We’ve now been on the road for nearly six months and i’ve lost count of how many times I have said “this is my favourite beach” or “this is my favourite free camp location” only to repeat myself several days later. At the time i’m sure it genuinely was my favourite but it turns out the world we live in is a truly beautiful place and there’s always plenty more to discover just around the corner, waiting to out shine the last.

We’ve spent time thinking long and hard (usually whilst laying half nude on the shores of a European beach or as we fill in time on a long, slow driving day) and together have finally come up with “a list of favourites”.  Maybe our list will help you decide on your next travel destination or act as a source of inspiration to do a similar trip, but at the very least, I hope you enjoy reading about our favourites (thus far).

 

 Favourite thing about van life:

K – Waking up every morning happy, looking forward to what the day ahead entails. Usually there’s no daily agenda but there are always countless possibilities. After that it’s definitely that van life enables endless adventuring! We really are going all over in Rover. I also love that it is a lifestyle which focuses on slowing down, being more present and valuing experiences and genuine connections rather than materialistic possessions and occupational status/success. We don’t have a lot “stuff” but we do have health, happiness and love. In my opinion they’re the most important life essentials.

B – Having freedom to go wherever and do whatever we want, everyday. Having no time restraints, no schedule to abide by, no one to wait for and no one to rely on but ourselves (and Rover of course)!

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Van life, the best life.

Top three favourite beaches:

K – 

  1. Calanque d’En-Vau, France. It’s a little secluded pebble beach in the Calanques National Park with the most beautiful turquoise water. To get there it’s about an hours hike on foot but completely worth every step!
  2. Ksamil, Albania. White sand, crystal clear blue water & no crowds. 
  3. Praia do Camilo, Portugal. The Algarve coast, need I say more? Plus with the right tide you’re able to swim through many of the grottos which open up and become your own secret little secluded beaches. 

B – 

  1. Calanque d’En-Vau, France. 
  2. Praia da Ponta Grande, Portugal. A tiny secluded beach with a sea cave. Once you swim through the sea cave the water opens up to join the North Atlantic Ocean. 
  3. Ksamil, Albania. As above. 
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Calanque d’En-Vau, France.
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Ksamil, Albania.

Top three favourite cities:

K – 

  1. Budapest, Hungary. This place has it all (well, apart from a beach. If it had a beach I’d probably be looking to relocate!). 
  2. Biarritz, France. Croissants, baguettes & the coast – what more could you want?
  3. San Sebastian, Spain. Where having an alcoholic beverage at 10 am is just as acceptable as an espresso, on any given morning. (And just as cheap!)

B – 

  1. Budapest, Hungary. 
  2. Barcelona, Spain. 
  3. Munich, Germany (however this is currently being contested by Berlin, where we are exploring now. Stay tuned!).
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Budapest, Hungary.
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Budapest, Hungary.
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Biarritz, France.
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San Sebastian, Spain.

Favourite camp site:

K – That’s an easy one, Picos de Europa, Spain.

B – As above.

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Campsite, Picos de Europa, Spain.

Favourite free camp location:

K – Arrifes Beach, Portugal or Coxos Beach, Portugal. Both locations we parked Rover on the edge of a cliff which directly over looked the ocean. It’s so nice going to bed and waking up to the sound of the ocean. We spent a least three nights at each location and even then it was difficult to leave! Or…

Foix, The Pyrenees. We drove up to the top of a mountain that overlooked the town of Foix. We had the most magnificent view from the van and there was no one else around except for us, the cows and the horses. We awoke at sunrise to the sound of cow bells jingling loudly as a herd of cows came right past the van to get their morning drink of water. It was such a magical place!

B – Arrifes Beach, Portugal. Located less than ten minutes away from one of my favourite beaches (Praia da Ponta Grande). 

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Arrifes Beach, Portugal. 
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Free camping, The Pyrenees.

Favourite natural phenomenon:

K – The Algarve coastline. It may be the most beautiful coastline I’ve ever laid eyes on. 

B – Maro Beach waterfall, Spain. And also the Algarve coastline. 

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The Algarve, Portugal.
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Maro Beach, Spain.

Favourite man made phenomenon:

K – Ronda, The Puente Nuevo bridge. It’s 2018 and I can’t even put an Ikea flat pack together so i’m completely amazed at how man kind built something so grand all these years ago. 

B – As above. (NB: Blake can put together an Ikea flat pack!)

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Ronda, Spain.

Favourite van meal:

K – I go through phases but my current favourite is Blake’s banana crepes for breakfast! It’s a Sunday speciality. 

B – Lentil spaghetti bolognese, hands down.

Favourite scenic drive:

K – The Pyrenees. For the majority of our trip we have followed the coastline so when we headed inland for a couple of days in the Pyrenees it was such a nice change of scenery. The landscape is magnificent – luscious greenery, rocky mountains, glacial rivers and plenty of friendly cows! The roads wind along with long tunnels through the mountains or dizzying zig zag turns to clamber up to the summits. There’s always plenty to see out the window making it the perfect location for long scenic drives. 

B – Llogara Pass – A high mountain pass from the Alps down into the Albanian Riviera. The views down the coastline overlooking miles of crystal clear water and such an epic landscape was insane to see.

Favourite lake: 

K – Lake Bohinj, Slovenia. We visited in Autumn and although it was far too cold to swim it was still a beautiful time to visit. The vibrant orange colours of Fall were all around and provided such a contrast to the turquoise colour of the glacial lake. 

B – Ruidera, Spain. We spent hot Summer days with the van parked right next to the lake. It was so good being able to hop out of the van and jump straight off the cliff into fresh cold water!

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Ruidera, Spain.
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Lake Bohinj, Slovenia.

Top three favourite hikes:

K – 

  1. Lac d’Oô, The Pyrenees.
  2. Sija Mountain, Lake Bohinj, Slovenia. 
  3. The Cares Route, Picos De Europa. 

B –

  1. The Cares Route, Picos De Europa. 
  2. Sija Mountain, Lake Bohinj, Slovenia. 
  3. Calanque d’En-Vau, France. 

 

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Lac d’Oô, The Pyrenees.
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The Cares Route, Picos De Europa.
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Sija Mountain, Slovenia.
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Sija Mountain, Slovenia.

Favourite van life moment:

K – For me there’s not  one particular stand out moment. Instead it’s celebrating & finding joy in the little everyday moments. Our lives have become slower and simplified yet more meaningful and deliberate. I get so excited by the simple things like finding the clearest water, a cosy beach corner, the yummiest croissant, an idyllic free camp spot, successfully conversing in another language or being able to step outside the van and gaze up at the stars on a clear night.

B – My favourite van life moment was being posted up, free camping on the point at Coxos in Portugal. We spent 4 days there waiting for this swell to arrive and waking up in the morning, opening the blinds and being able to see how good the waves were from bed was incredible. To surf amazing waves all day and have our home parked right up on the point was one of the best days ever.

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Coxos, Portugal.

Favourite food/cuisine:

K – Can I cheat and have two favourites? The patisseries in France & the tarts & fresh seafood in Portugal.

B – Italian pizza & pasta.

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Daily diet, Italy. 

 

Favourite playlist whilst on the road:

K – 70’s funk.

B – True blue Aussie classics.

Favourite alcoholic beverage:

K – Aperol spritz, Italy.

B – Super bock, Portugese beer.

Favourite time waster:

K – Editing photographs and documenting our travels through visual story boards. Oh and I absolutely love the question game! (Who could ever get sick of making up hypothetical scenarios?)

B – Playing cards and drinking cheap local beers. More often than not, this occurs simultaneously!

Favourite free activity:

K – Swimming in the ocean, exercising and exploring new places/adventuring. The ocean is where I feel most grounded and calm, exercise keeps me sane & feeling myself while exploring new places/adventuring keeps me constantly learning, curious & happy.

B – Submerging in water whether that be the ocean or a fresh water lake. Anything to do with water and I’m happy! Oh and I also love constantly being on the move (although this requires petrol which is far from free!) because I want to do as many things & see as many places as possible.

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Swimming spot, Montenegro.
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Blake, en route to Bratus Beach, Croatia.

Favourite language: 

K – French. Personally I think it sounds the most beautiful when spoken aloud compared to some of the other European languages which can sound quite aggressive. Contrary to the common stereotype of the French being rude and abrupt we have thankfully found the majority of people to be warm and welcoming towards us. As always a few learned phrases go a long way!

B – English. It’s not only my first language but also the most common second language in most countries we visited so that made it pretty easy!

Favourite piece of advice for people thinking of doing a similar trip:

K – No plan is the best plan. 

B – Make sure you are adaptable. 

 

** K – Kirsten & B – Blake (stating the bloody  obvious). 

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Welcome to Albania, it’ll cost you.

Processed with VSCO with c7 presetWe woke early, in Montenegro (we’d spent our first night free camping near Kotor with Rover parked right opposite the beautiful Adriatic Sea with jagged mountain ranges as the backdrop) and jumped straight into the ocean to make us feel alive before we guzzled our morning cuppa joe. Both the water temperature and outside temperature were cold but the crystal clear water and surrounds were too beautiful to let the opportunity pass by. We ate breakfast out on the concrete jetty watching as the world woke up and started on a new day – cruise ships and fisherman passed each other by with purpose. We too decided to get cracking on our day and hit the road early as we were unsure of how long it would take us to cross the border into Albania as we had heard the roads were some of the worst there are.

What we hadn’t heard was how intensely crazy it is driving on the roads in Albania! We crossed the border, and got through customs, collecting another stamp in our passports rather easily and efficiently. Having mentally prepared ourselves for horrendous roads we were actually rather impressed with their visibly new upgraded roads. What we didn’t prepare for was the chaos we were about to be hurled into, driving amongst the locals. Albania seemed to me like Europe’s India! Road rules didn’t seem to exist and instead it was a free for all – there were middle aged ladies on bicycles riding against traffic on an unmarked four lane roundabout, people putting their hazard lights on and parking their car in the middle of a busy functioning road, herds of sheep crossed freely with apparent right of way, people honking horns frequently and unnecessarily, pedestrians stepping out to cross the roads infant of hurtling cars and then there was us and Rover amongst it all, trying to make our way to the campgrounds without any functioning internet on our phone.

We exited a busy roundabout and appeared to be leaving some of the mayhem behind when we got overtaken on our left as a car sped up and ushered to the right by local policeman who were stopped on the side of the road and pulling over cars as they desired. We came to a halt and wound down the window without the faintest idea of what this was all about as the local policeman approached. In our four months on the road in Europe we had never once been pulled over by the police. In fact, it was quite the opposite. There had been many occasions (in several countries) where police had been pulling over cars and they’d simply ushered us through. We figured that they’d seen our Dutch number plates (hard to miss due to their bright yellow colour) and simply thought it would be too difficult to attempt to communicate in another language or too costly to post the fine (if necessitated) back to The Netherlands where the van is registered. Turns out that’s not the case in Albania. This policeman had picked us out as easy targets to make some fast cash!

The policeman came to the drivers window to speak to Blake, the offender. There was plenty of dialogue between us all but very little comprehension as we didn’t know a word of Albanian and he knew next to no English. The next ten minutes was another game of real life charades with finger pointing and animations. We handed over passports, licenses and the van registration and insurance. The policeman sternly pointed his finger at Blake, exclaimed “naughty” and then laughed! Finally we were issued with a speeding fine.

From what we could decipher the policeman stated that the speed limit was 50 km/hr and we were excessively speeding doing 80km/hr. How he arrived at 80km/hr no one knows as there was no speed camera in sight! But we certainly weren’t going to attempt to argue. We handed over 30 euros (presumably which went straight into his back pocket to be later spent for his personal use), knowing we’d been completely scammed but figuring it was a small price to pay and far better than ending up in Albanian jail! I smiled politely, repeatedly saying “thank you” and “sorry”  as we started Rover ready to get back on the road. The policeman smugly grinned and then to everyone’s amazement lent into the car to slap hands with me sitting in the passengers seat (alikened to a homie handshake) before he hugged Blake and sent us on our way!

It was a wild introduction to Albania and one I’m sure I’ll never forget! We reached the campgrounds situated about 3 km down the road and were happy to have checked in & parked up safely for the next couple of nights. We told the young Albanian receptionist at the campsite what had just happened and she merely smiled, speaking perfectly good English and told us “Ahh, this happens in a foreign country. It’s best to put it behind you.” And that we did. It was time for a long hot shower and then a tall cold beer! Now that we deserved.

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Blake, the offender. 

Lake Bled.

Processed with VSCO with e2 presetBefore we departed for our European van life adventure we were asking our friends & family back home for any hot tips or recommendations on places we must see. One of our best friends said Lake Bled was an absolute must. He hadn’t got the chance to go there himself but had heard only great things and urged us to go.

We were making our way to Croatia from Venice but decided to take a slight detour to Lake Bled to break up the drive & check it out for ourselves so we could report back first hand.

Turns out we’re in agreeance with everyone else! The place is like no other I’ve seen before. As we first drove around the lake I couldn’t help but wind down the window & yell “WOW!” like an excited kid.

The clear water & turqouise colour of the glacial lake is contrasted by the luscious greenery of the surrounding forests. There’s plenty to look at whether it be the infamous island church, cliffside castle or the jagged mountain ranges which act as a stunning backdrop. There’s also plenty of activity on and around the lake with row boats, the authentic pletna boats, swimming, fishing, hiking & more.

Although it’s the main tourist destination in Slovenia it’s natural charm hasn’t been lost and somehow (thankfully) the atmosphere around the lake remains peaceful and serene. At sunset it also feels incredibly romantic!

Back in the olden days there was a guy from Switzerland called Arnold Rikli who became ill after exposure to chemicals as a result of his occupation in leather dye works. He started researching places where he could go to recover, stumbled upon Lake Bled and then later moved there.

He considered himself as a pioneer and natural healer, curing himself of disease with the help of nature, sunbathing and swimming in the lake.

I highly doubt there’s any evidence to support his method curing serious illnesses however I’m sure it works wonders for improving physical, mental & emotional wellbeing!

We certainly felt great spending two days amongst nature, doing little but his “prescription”. The Rikli hiking path (named after him) which is still around today was apparently part of his and his cult’s daily routine – they walked up each morning on an empty stomach, bare foot and often nude!

Today there are a number of upmarket hotels that offer tourists health and wealth ness retreats and spa packages. Unlike Riklis I’m pretty sure they come at an exorbitant price and your clothing remains on, although I can’t be certain.

THINGS TO DO: 

  • Walk the 6 km track around the perimeter of the lake. The entire circuit is beautiful with plenty of places to stop & take in the picturesque scenery.
  • Seek out one of the many hiking trails which will lead to  spectacular view points overlooking Lake Bled & the surrounding mountains.
  • Go for a swim. I felt courageous enough to go for a dip despite the freezing outside temperatures. After getting out of the water Blake took a look at me and said I could take someone out with my nipples. Apparently I wasn’t tricking anyone into thinking it was warm! Freezing but very refreshing and recommended.
  • Try the famous cream cake, a speciality that originated in Bled. We shared one between two & after about one minute there was little left on the plate! It certainly lived up to expectations.

TIPS: 

  • For the best vantage point over Lake Bled take the Ojstrica trail. It’s only a short 20 minutes up hill through the forest to get to the top & the views are well worth it.
  • Head to the campsite mini market for the cheapest beer. A cold can of Slovenian Laško is only 0.99 euros!
  • Van life: we paid for parking next to the campsite and were able to stay the night for just 5 euros. There’s no services but the position is perfect being directly opposite Lake Bled!
  • Make sure you pack your joggers & plenty of warm clothes. We visited at the end of September and although sunny throughout the day, the wind was freezing & the temperatures ranged from a chilly 1 – 16 degrees.
  • We arrived on Sunday afternoon & left on Tuesday & as always the weekdays are noticeably less crowded than weekends.

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Mont Rebei.

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After spending some time (and too much money) exploring Spain’s cities we decided to get back to nature. We sat down and formulated a rough plan for the next couple of weeks to include more national parks, hikes and of course waterfalls. First stop we were headed to The Pyrenees. But like all van life “plans” this changed quickly after we stayed with our friend in La Fuliola (en route) and he said we absolutely must go to Mont Rebei.

Mont Rebei (Congost de Mont – Rebei) is situated approximately 3.5 hours drive west of Barcelona. I’ll save my words and let the photographs do the talking but in short the scenery is absolutely stunning! I lost track of how many times I excitedly said “wow” throughout the hike.

One of my favourite parts of the hike was walking along the scarily narrow path that was etched into the side of the mountain with no guard rail or safety barrier (sorry Mum). From here you had breath taking views of the canyon and turquoise water hundreds of meters below. You could even spot carp swimming below due to the great water clarity!

Thank goodness we got the recommendation for Mont Rebei otherwise we would have driven straight by and completely missed this gem. Make sure you don’t do the same!

PRACTICAL INFORMATION:

  • Parking is 5 euros for the day (it’s strictly regulated so there’s no opportunity to free camp over night). There’s an information office situated near the car park – the staff kindly helped us out with free maps and easy to follow directions for the route we wanted to take.
  • The main route winds around (and up and over) the mountains and follows the river below taking you past two main suspension brides. To walk to the second bridge takes roughly 1.5 hours each way. Although I’d recommend leaving yourself plenty more time to allow for photographs, picnic/water stops and swimming. We spent roughly 4 hours in total (1.5 hours walking each way and a 30 minute swim on the way there and back at the pontoon located at the first bridge). You can continue the hike further past the second suspension bridge however for us time didn’t permit and therefore we’re unsure of what lies beyond.
  • You can also hire kayaks and explore the area on water if that’s more your thing.
  • There’s no services so make sure you take sunscreen, food and plenty of water with you.

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