Monday, 24 May 2010

Welcome Aboard!

So, we have met many people over the course of this trip (including two separate couples in the last two days) who have agreed that it is everyone's dream to travel europe in a classic veedub campervan and, in some cases, even gone so far that they have always wanted to have one themselves, just not got round to it yet (usually the male half of the couple), but then enquired what it is actually like live in one, in a tone which sounds somehow doubtful of the actuality of the venture (usually the female half).  

We have also met a number of people who look at us, look at the van, see from the daisies how long we have been on the road and look incredulous, proper motorhomers who get the concept of life on the road but not the scale or on board amenities (or lack thereof) of a veedub, and a Rotel-dweller who seemed to think they were no more crazy than us in terms of travelling lifestyle and space available (not Stefan, another one I was chatting to).  And to be honest, I think there are still a few people back home who still don't quite believe this is really the only way to travel ...

So, as we have visited our intended 'thing' for today (more on that elsewhere) and Will is currently head down, tail up in the engine bay adding an extra set of points - of course we have several sets kicking around for just this sort of eventuality! - to the distributor so as to get better rev counting ability (something to do with wanting to count sparks off the points but this not being possible (or at least accurate) using the already installed  set as the necessary connection to the HT side of the ignition makes it hard to get a clean voltage spike reading, or some such problem) it really is about time I dusted off these ramblings about life on board - which were started back in Bordeaux! - and gave you all a bit of a glimpse of what it's really like beyond all the sights and lazing around on beaches I normally witter on about.

We'll start with the particulars of the accommodation.


On approach, this desireable and highly sought after period residence benefits from an obvious kerb appeal and a quirky charm not often displayed by larger or more modern dwellings of a similar type. 

The exterior is finished with a simple yet elegant blue and white theme and has been thoughtfully pre-dented by a previous owner to reduce worry in tight corners.  Particular note should be made of the attractively decorated panels which chart this particular property's unique recent history.

Entry to the property is gained via two main doors to each side of the frontal approach, both of which lead to a well appointed entrance hall-cum-day room with windows on three aspects, comprising a double width picture window overlooking the front of the property (with built in self-cleaning feature) and opening windows to each side.  The principal furnishings consist of two imposing fixed seats in a classic retro brown vinyl finish.  These are one of the many original features which this property boasts, and are well placed to appreciate the ever changing and usually delightful panoramic views afforded by the large windows.   

This room benefits from capacious storage under the front window and both behind and under the seating and also houses the main control panel for the property, again a charming original feature of simplistic black plastic design, which is conveniently situated to the front of the room within easy reach of the principal seat.  From this one position therefore, the owner has full command of most of the operational aspects of the property, including; speed, direction, interior heating, exterior lighting, window cleaning, and fuelling levels as well as the fully integrated modern music system.

Moving through the brief hallway towards the rear of the property, one comes first to the spacious, open plan living room, well equipped with surround sound, remote control stereo, a comfortable two-seater sofa, side table/tv table space and a further footstool-cum-seat-cum-occasional table-cum-storage-chest. 

This room also benefits from ample storage in the form of a deceptively slimline standalone cupboard and discrete built in shelving under  and above the sofa. 

The adjoining dining room space contains a table which comfortably seats 3-4 and can also double as study/work space although is little used by the present occupants.

Moving through again, the bijou kitchen benefits from bespoke LED downlighting, a fully fitted work surface,

ample storage,

a height adjustable washing line and all necessary appliances including;  compact sink complete with running water, washing up bowl and draining board,

built-in three-way fridge

and two-ring gas cooker/grill.

From time to time, and if the location and weather are clement, the kitchen and living room open straight out onto the patio, which comes complete with bbq and firepit and stylish yet practical bottle opener, and which often boasts panoramic views over the cliff, beach, harbour, lake, gorge, rolling hills or mountains.

Moving back inside again, the patio also leads to the first of two double bedrooms, the master bedroom located on the ground floor, and the second bedroom located on the mezzanine floor. 

The upstairs bedroom, which also doubles as an office/study with excellent wireless internet reception,

benefits from an unusually high ceiling and 240 degree views through the floor to ceiling windows,

often offering superb seaviews. 

The master bedroom features bespoke constellation downlighters,

a fitted wardrobe

and has tea and breakfast making facilities easily to hand in the morning

All rooms are flooded with natural light from the large windows to all aspects and the optional double height ceiling affords a futher sense of light and space.  

The exterior of the property offers from further storeage capacity in the roof space, with a garage to the rear of the property, 

On a practical note, the dwelling is dual fuelled with petrol supplies for day to day running being stored and replenished to the rear of the property whilst the appliances are supplied from a separate tank under the centre of the property.  The property is equipped with a full alarm system, including central locking to the main front entrances, and benefits from a sophisticated climate control system utilising the fully adjustable warm and cold air vents, both of which are more effective at speed. 

Viewing can be arranged at anytime by personal appointment although alternative accomodation will be required.  Minimal advanced notice is preferred. 

So that's our little home on wheels - quite the des-res :)  

People do ask about the space, but we have everything we need (and probably more!) and, although in what I think of as 'landing mode', ie the transition from one room to another (or to the engine bay), it can feel a bit 'busy', in all honesty, I wouldn't want the inconvenience of having any more space.  We can get Jules down all manner of little roads, wrong turnings and tight corners and legally park in a single space in supermarkets or by the side of the road, or at the foot of blocks of flats in towns - we may not be exactly 'discrete' but once we're in and shut up, you wouldn't really know we were there....

In terms of day to day living, again we have everything we need and mostly eat in rather than out.  Thanks to the saucepan and wok we have, we can boil, simmer, fry, stir-fry, dry-fry, sauté, steam, reheat and casserole things so we can cook pretty much anything we would at home (except lasagne, roast dinner and pizza!).  

The fridge took some getting - European stocks low, none to be had anywhere, will-it-arrive-in-time worry -  but it is brilliant.  It is a three-way fridge, which means it runs off 240v hook up (when we have it), 12v when driving and gas, and which is completely silent.  I was surprised and somewhat disappointed that Will could not explain how burning gas can cool things down - he is supposed to know everything!  For those of you wondering, apparently it is through the heating (that's the burning gas bit!), evaporation and condensation of ammonia, so now you know...  It even comes complete with icecube tray!  We tried it once but as we tend to turn it down or off as much as possible to conserve gas, it froze and then melted again before we remembered to use them....  Did work though!  It is struggling a little bit with the 31 degree heat here in Greece but othewise it's been great. 

Will has also had to learn new driving techniques in Jules.  In the midget, you know you have gone round a corner a bit fast when you feel the bucket seats gripping your bottom.  In Jules, its when all the stuff comes flying out of the cupboards and the drawer empties itself over the floor...  Will had devised a cunning solution of elastic and hand whittled wooden pegs to hold them closed when the magnetic catches are just not strong enough but even so, there have still been a few switch back roads which have defied even the pull of the elastic.

There has also been some discussion about Jules' gender.  Most vans are female - and Will has been known to say that he has spent enough time lying on his back underneath it, fiddling with its undercarriage that it must be a girl van... ;) - but I am not so sure.  I think of it more as a well-behaved but excitable labrador puppy, which sits and stays and waits patiently for you on command - and only widdles on the floor a very little bit :) - but when you come back, its little face lights up as if to say "Here I am!  You came back to me!  Let's go out and play!"  It is brave and stoical and just keeps going in the face of (most) adversity and as it didn't give me any clues when telling me its name (jules - uje363s - squint a bit  and you can sort of see it, as I did when we were sat outside its previous owner's house falling in love with it), an affectionate 'it' it remains for now.

If you fancy a little taste of van living, here's a reliable favourite - special fried rice - which still feels like real cooking but can be made from things usually in stock, so no shopping required and is therefore 'free at point of consumption' very important on a cheap week!

Van-Style Special Fried Rice - 'Classic Recipe'

Serves 2 
Preparation time c30 mins


1/2 cup rice
1 cup water
2 onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 packet bacon bits (lardons) or 4 rashers back bacon chopped.
1 small tin sweetcorn
2 eggs
Extra virgin olive oil


1.  Put the rice and water into a lidded wok or deep frying pan or large saucepan.

2. Simmer gently with the lid on until all the water has been absorbed by the rice and it is soft.  You may need to stir occasionally to stop it sticking towards the end.

3. When all the water is gone, add the onion and bacon to the pan and stir in enough olive oil to lightly coat everything.

4. Cover and return to a gentle heat, stirring occasionally.

5. When the onion is soft, add the sweetcorn and return to the heat for a few minutes until heated through.

6. Remove the lid, make a well in the centre of the rice mix and add about a tablespoon of olive oil.  Crack the eggs into the well and heat gently, stirring continually, until the eggs have the consistency of firm-ish scrambled eggs.

7. Mix everything together, ensuring an even distribution of egg throughout the rice mixture,

8. Serve immediately with the cheapest red wine you can bring yourself to buy from the country in which you happen to be - preferably under a euro a bottle if possible (even if that means buying a 1.5l bottle to get it as I recently did... Honestly, it wasn't as bad as you might think, although it is fair to conject that we may have lost any appreciatiation for the finer things in life... ;) 

There are also further variations on the 'classic' recipe given above whereby you can substitute slices of pre-cooked sausage, ham, chorizo, salami, cooked prawns  etc etc for the bacon at stage three.  You can also use, chunks of chicken, lamb, pork etc.  In this case, start with steps 3 & 4, cook the meat and onion first, then go back to steps 1 & 2 and add the rice and water to the pan. Or you can leave the meat out all together for the veggie version.

Easy!  It doesn't look especially posh or well presented but it tastes better than it looks and is quick, easy and very comforting! 

So there you have it, a little insight into van-dwelling and life on board your conveyance of choice for this particular journey.  I hope you feel a bit more at home now.  You would of course also be welcome to visit - if you can track us down - kettle's on!

Time to sit back once more and enjoy the ride :)

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