• Week 10

    25 June to 2 July 

    Pelion, Meteora and Lefkas
     

    To our amazement the temperatures still kept on rising and our new neighbours were very concerned about how the children were managing in the increasing heat.  (They were also concerned at how hard Mummy and Daddy worked each day to look after the children and every evening gave us lots of lovely wine!) They ensured that when a sea-side pitch became available later that day we moved into it so as to benefit from the sea breeze (which felt like a hair dryer!)  The temperature steadily began to rise day by day and we found ourselves touring the peninsular in our air-conditioned van between the hours of 12 and 4pm.  We got to see the incredible inland scenery which was mountainous with pretty, little villages scattered throughout.    On our first day out the temperature hit 45° C whilst we were touring Mount Pelion.  Over the next two days we eventually hit 53.5° with a sultry 35° at night. 

    Feeling hot, hot, hot!

    The campervan external thermometer (it got hotter!)

    We continued exploring, as well as shopping in Volos which had some great air conditioned shops and supermarkets and the rest of the time we dipped in and out of the sea which was on our doorstep.  We managed to construct a makeshift mosquito net from a roll of netting and bungees we tracked down in Volos and also bought a small electric fan.  At least we could have a bit of air through the van at night and actually we all slept pretty well. The weather continued to amaze us - one day when we were swimming a freaky hot wind got up turning over everything on the beach.  People fled from the sea trying to catch airborne lilos, umbrellas, towels and clothes.  It was such a strange sight.  The sea became really rough and, once we had secured our own possessions (thank you again wonderful neighbours for catching our washing!), we had a fun afternoon jumping the waves and boogie boarding.  Both Zach and Louis stunned onlookers, and us, with their boogie boarding antics – totally no fear! 

    Our pitch by the sea

    Our pitch by the sea

    We had planned to spend only a couple of nights here but the heat kept us here for four nights in the end.  When a cool breeze came one morning we grabbed the opportunity to pack up and head off.  As we took down the awning and loaded up the van roaring aircrafts shattered the quiet and we saw the most incredible spectacle of fire planes loading up sea water.  Unbeknown to us devastating fires were raging on the other side of the peninsular and elsewhere in Greece – it was only when we reached Volos later that morning, and saw every newspaper with rampaging fires on the front page, we realised what a serious situation was unfolding.  Back at the campsite it had been such a mesmerising sight.  The skill of the pilots was breathtaking as they glided down to scoop up the sea and then with a huge roar the engines were powered to lift themselves back into the sky, water streaming from their hold.  Zach and Louis couldn’t believe their luck – a fire plane show on their doorstep.  It seemed a sad way to be leaving Pelion, not knowing for sure what the outcome would be for a place we had enjoyed so much. 

    Fire plane

    Fire plane

    We had decided to try and meet up with Steve’s aunt and uncle in Lefkas, an Ionian island on the west side of Greece.   In order to break up the journey we were going to visit Meteora, one of the most visited places in Greece (we had never heard of it!).   Just driving into it was quite spectacular. 

    Driving in to Meteora

    Driving into Meteora

    These, once submerged, huge pinnacles of rock rose out from the town below.  This amazing landscape was formed about 10 million years ago by tectonic movements when the area was sumbmerged by an inland sea.  In 11AD hermit monks decided to build monasteries, precariously balanced, on the inaccessible rock summits, to seek refuge from the bloodshed of Turkish incursions.   The monks reached their monasteries in baskets which were lowered and raised on ropes – a risky business as ropes inevitably did break from time to time.  This was also the only way to bring any supplies into the monasteries.  Luckily for us today a road runs around the clusters of monasteries.  What is most amazing is how sophisticated the buildings are considering they were built so long ago and in such inaccessible locations. 

    Monastry

    One of the many monestries

    We stayed in a lovely campsite, ‘Boufidis’ (The Cave), right beneath the rocks.  It had a great swimming pool and it was incredible to swim with these huge towering rocks looming above. 

    Boufidis campsite

    Camping Boufidis

    In the evening we headed into Kalambaka, the local town, for dinner.  We were amazed at how touristy and developed the place was, it was pretty much a town of bars and restaurants.  After dinner we drove back to the campsite through the huge pinnacles of rock which were spectacularly lit up.  In the light of an incredible full moon we settled down for the night. 

    Kalabaka

    Kalabaka at dusk

    Meteora was just a stopover so the next morning we got back on the motorway (well quite big road!) and made our way westward towards Lefkas.  The drive was really beautiful, the interior of Greece totally fascinating.  Without the luxury of satellite navigation we had estimated that the journey would take three or four hours but it was much more mountainous and greener that we had anticipated and took us nearer to five.    We were once again treated to more stunning scenery and breathtaking views as we screeched our way around yet more hair pin bends and hazardous ascents and descents.   One of the most enlightening parts of our drive through Europe has been how impressively and extensively mountainous it is.  Greece, particularly, more so than we had ever imagined.  Throughout our drive we have seen an incredible number of ski resorts scattered across the mountains and again here in Greece we passed snow cannons and Gondolas and resorts that looked more Austrian.  Despite some very windy and narrow roads we were lucky to find a stretch of a newly completed section of EU funded motorway, which will, no doubt once finished will reduce the journey time across Greece considerably. It was great to reach the sea again on the western coast.  The drive down from Igoumenitsa along the coast was really refreshing.  We stopped at the windswept Agios Ioannis beach to watch the wind- and kite-surfing which was perfectly suited to the huge, windy bay.  We parked alongside a row of about half a dozen campervans and were immediately attracted to thought of the high adrenaline, wild camping lifestyle - perhaps when the boys are a little older.  Zach and Louis were of course suitably impressed by the huge para kites and people zooming back and forth jumping high over huge waves.  The weather was still hot but thankfully the breeze felt less like a hairdryer and it was definitely cooler than the heat of Volos and Pelion. 

    We crossed on to Lefkas along a causeway and headed to Nidri, the island’s capital.  We had been instructed by Steve’s aunt and uncle, Peter and Anne, to catch a boat at Nidri to Porto Spilla on Meganisi, one of Lekas’s satellite islands.  On the boat to Meganisi the Greek passengers anxiously watched the boat’s TVs which were full of the fires raging across the country.  We learned from another passenger that the reports were that the intense heat had melted the electricity cables and the sparks had in turn easily ignited the already baked and dry trees and land.  They were made worse by the high winds which had fanned the flames enabling the fires to spread uncontrollably.  People we literally fleeing for their lives and those not directly in the fire’s path were affected by widespread power cuts and other disruptions in basic services.
     

    Coming in to Porto Spila

    Coming into Porto Spilia

    As the boat docked a very suntanned, Peter and Anne were there to meet us.  They took us to a taverna where they had arranged for us to park our van for the night and then it was off to their boat for drinks.  Zach and Louis were really excited by the prospect of actually boarding a sailing boat having seen so many in all the ports we had been to on our travels.  They were not to be disappointed.  We all enjoyed a grand tour of the compact, well equipped living quarters - it was our first time to on a sailing boat and we were surprised how spacious and accommodating it was down below deck. 

    Peter and Anne's Boat

    Peter and Anne's boat

    Zach and Louis were in awe as Peter gave them instructions on how to wind up rope on a winch. 

    Peter and Anne's boat

    Zach and Louis mesmorised by Peter

    We went back to the van to set up for the night.   We were literally a stones throw away from the harbour, it was basically a piece of land at the side of a restaurant full of olive trees and more basic than most places we had stayed at but with everything we needed including shower facilities, oh and heaps of mosquitos!!  We were to be the only people camping here and the family running the restaurant were so delighted we had arrived they weren't bothered about charging us anything to stay!  We were thoroughly spoilt and once we had set up camp for the night we were treated to a delicious meal in a beachside taverna a short walk from our campervan. 

    The next morning we joined Peter and Anne on their boat once more where the children fed bread to the most enormous fish which gathered at the back of the boat.  This was Anne and Peter’s last day of their holiday and they had to take the boat back to Nidri before collecting their campervan and setting off on their drive back to the UK.  We sadly waved them off at the harbour as they made their way back to Lefkas. The next ferry to Leftkas for us to leave on wasn’t for another few hours so we took some time exploring the island and its beaches.  It was such a pretty little place with secluded coves, little clusters of houses and turquoise sea in every direction.  It was, unsurprisingly, very popular with “yachties” who had the great advantage of mooring up in the most spectacular, isolated and inaccessible of bays.  Finally it was time to leave and we boarded the ferry.  Zach and Louis were allowed to drive it to Lefkas thanks to the really lovely captain.  They couldn’t believe it! 

    On the boat

    With Peter and Anne on their boat

    We made our way out of Nidri and headed for Vasiliki and another Kastri camping.  We had been tipped off by a German couple while staying at the Kastri Campsite in Pelion, that this was the only place to stay in Lefkas.  We left the tourism of Nidri behind us and the roads got smaller as we wound our way through the rural landscape.  After passing through little farmsteads we finally reached the campsite.  We pitched up in a great spot overlooking the sea with Kefalonia in the distance.  It was one of the most beautiful and natural sites we had come across, it had its own private beach and a swimming pool carved into the rocks below the panoramic bar.  

    Pool in the rocks
    Pool in the rocks

    The rock pool at Kastri

    On our second morning the local fruit and veg man pulled up in a rickety lorry piled high with delicous fresh produce.  We stocked up and he gave the children huge slabs of melon to eat. 

    Louis and melon
    Louis and melonLouis and melon

    Louis enjoying fresh watermelon!

    We spent the first couple of days just chilling out in these amazing surroundings before going on to explore more of the island. 

    Strangest Experience
    The erratic weather and hot temperatures culminating in some terrifying fires.  

    Top three
    Greek hospitality
    Greek beaches
    Greece, one of our main motivations for coming on this trip!!  

    Stats
     Total miles 4,111
      

    Other pictures we liked this week
    Zach practising his boogie boarding

    Night time boogie board practice!

    Louis at dusk
    Louis at dusk practising his boogie boarding

    Louis doing his boogie board workout!

    Finally leaving

    Leaving Sikia Camping near Volos

    Meteora

    Another precariously balanced monastry!

    Landscape in Meteora

    The spectacular landscape

    Watching the incredible landscape

    Zach and Louis observing the view!

    Leaving Nidri for Maganisi
    Steve and Louis on the boat to Maganisi

    Heading for Maganisi

    Leaving Lefkas for Meganisi

    Great Uncle Peter

    Going out for supper with Great Uncle Peter!

    Louis

    Louis at the restaurant

    Path to the beach

    Path down to the beach at Kastri

  • Week 9 part 2

    21 June to 25 June 

    Skiathos - Heading back westwards 

    We arrived in Skiathos and headed for the campsite at Koukounaries beach - the only campsite open on the island. It was very green, lush and pretty much deserted.  We were amazed to discover that it was the most expensive campsite we had stayed in so far and the owner was not interested in any kind of negotiation!  It was the first time we really thought about getting an apartment or hotel room as it would have cost almost the same amount.  We did check out an alternative campsite on the other side of the Island and this was offered to us for free but alas on inspection the buildings were overgrown, abandoned and still awaiting water to be switched on with the electricity following in a few weeks, the season hadn't begun this side of the island!  We were beginning to struggle with the rising temperatures and huge amounts of mosquitoes.  Not having any mosquito nets we had to choose between getting bitten or staying cool and leaving the doors open.  We also played a new game each evening - 'splat the mozzie' which entailed leaping around the van with the fly swat and rolled up newspapers and collecting a piles of mosquito carcases!
     

     Views from the ferry to Skiathos

    Sailing to Skiathos

    The campsite was a short cycle to the beach, supposedly one of Greece's finest.  It was lovely - long and beautifully sandy, backed by a pine forest.  It had all the water sports facilities you could wish for and when we first arrived it was almost empty.  The children loved the sand and began digging sandcastles in earnest.  We then went for a swim to cool off.  While we were swimming, unnoticed by us, a huge tourist boat arrived and the
    next thing we knew there were literally hundreds of people and the beach and sea were heaving.   The day after we arrived we went back to the main town to meet 'Anma and Carol who were getting the boat to Skiathos to catch their plane home.  We met them for breakfast in the harbour and all piled in the van to take them to the airport.  It was a sad farewell at the airport and it made us realise that we were now also heading home ourselves.  Skopelos was the furthest east we had planned to travel and we were now on the journey back westwards. We decided to stick it out at the campsite as we didn't plan to stay in Skiathos for long as it was a bit too busy and developed for us - we had been too spoilt with empty beaches and campsites to ourselves for too long!  We discovered Banana beach which had a bit more of a relaxed and funky feel to it than Koukounaries.  It also had the added bonus of being west facing so had the most incredible sunsets. 

    Sunset at Banana Beach

    Sunset at Banana Beach

    The boys got naked in unison with the other nudists further up the beach and enjoyed al fresco showering!  As the sun set they entertained the Greeks in the beach bar by shaking their booty to the pumping music and were rewarded with ice-cream and lots of attention. Not sure they would get the same response in London!   

    Banana Beach

    Bathtime at Banana Beach!

    As the temperatures rose daily we ended up spending hour after hour wallowing in the sea as it was the only way to keep cool.   Zach literally managed to stay in for about 5 hours one day and came out looking like a little prune!  We checked out the weather forecast and discovered that it was cooler on the islands to the west of Greece so decided it was time to move on.  Also if we left now we would have a chance of meeting up with Steve's aunt and uncle who were in Lefkas where they have a sailing boat.  We headed to the port to book a ferry and were put on a reserve list for later that day.  While we awaited news of whether we could leave we took the time to explore the inland.  We found some incredible roads up high above the town.  We got a great view of the airport and its frighteningly short runway.  Apparently the baggage needs careful loading here to ensure the planes can take off safely - we felt very smug in the van at the thought of that!  Even the landing lights start way out to sea as the planes almost touch the top of your head as they land on the outskirts of Skiathos town.  We also took a nose at the Monastery and some fabulous panoramic views before we eventually returned to the port and finally got confirmation that there was room on the ferry for us.

     Waiting for the ferry

    Queuing for the ferry

    We arrived back in Volos and drove to Sikia Camping where we had stayed a few weeks previously.  This was the first time we had returned anywhere and it felt quite strange but also easy and comforting to be in familiar surroundings.  We found a pitch quite close to the sea and after a fabulous meal in the campsite restaurant we settled down for the night.
     

    Strangest Experience
    The runway at the airport was only separated from the road by a flimsy wire fence.  On this fence was a tatty sign asking cars not to drive on a short section of road when planes are coming in to land!  Have they not heard of anti-terrorism precautions!!!  
     

    Skiathos airport

    Skiathos Airport

    Plane landing!

    Top three things
    Sand
    Banana beach
    Dirt tracks up into the hills

    Other pictures we liked this week 

    Sunset at Banana Beach

    Sunset at Banana Beach

    Sunset at Banana Beach

    Louis at the beach bar

    Lots of attention at the Banana Beach bar!

    Skiathos campsite

    Off to the beach!

    On the ferry

    Entertaining all the children on the ferry!

  • Week 8 and week 9 part 1

     
    11 June to 21 June
     
    Pelion and Skopelos
     
    We continued to enjoy the remoteness of Kastri until it was time to head off to Skopelos to meet up with 'Anma (Kate's Mum).  Even though we could see Skopelos in the distance there were no ferries from where we were so we had to drive back to Volos.  We boarded the ferry and Louis immediately befriended an elderly Greek couple who fed him crisps and biscuits the entire journey.  The boat stopped off in Skiathos and the scene before us as we stood watching form the deck was incredible.  We were all transfixed as people, goods and vehicles were hurriedly rushed on and off the Ferry as the Customs officials screeched their whistles at the traffic to keep them moving.  Zach exclaimed "its just like 'what people do all day?'", referring to the Richard Scarry books the boys have enjoyed reading all holiday.  Zach was remarkably bang on with his description and we all looked on until the doors were closed and the Ferry headed off once more this time to Skopelos and 'Anma waiting on the quayside.  
     
    Glysteri Beach from the hills
    Driving down to Glysteri Beach

    It was great to see 'Anma and her friend Carol.  They have visited Skopelos on a number of occasions so were able to introduce us to some fabulous restaurants, bars, beaches and best of all their friends the Cosma Family.  Sula Cosma, family matriarch, insisted that we park our van next to their taverna on Glysteri beach and camp free of charge.   So our camper van is stationed pretty much on "their" beach, half of it in truth is owned by the Monks who stay way up high in the Monastery.  We have only to stagger a few yards for bacon and eggs in the morning, stuffed peppers, fresh fish, salads so fresh and beautifully herbed each lunchtime and piping hot Skopelos pie, a sweet and creamy filled pastry dusted with icing sugar and fresh fruit delivered to the van most evenings. 

     
    Sula restaurant
    Sula's Restaurant

    Child care is shared by all including the "YaYa and Papoose" of the restaurant - some of the best greek food on the island being served here.  This is an incredible place to stay, the mornings begin often and strangely with the sound of Microsoft Windows on the PC pumping through the restaurant's sound system, soon followed by Greek Music.  Louis and Steve are usually up first and Louis heads immediately to entertain the family around the breakfast table.  After several cups of thick, black coffee, the days work in the restaurant then commences, from cleaning the beach to preparing the tables and Kitchen.  The family work tirelessly late into the night sometimes with only a handful of customers, the season has yet to begin and the restaurant is vast and includes a museum full of family and Greek history about the Glisteri Beach.  This had once been the ship and boat building port from which some pretty impressive ships were built. It did not take Zach long to find his own evidence of the past climbing on the rocks getting his feet into some sticky tar.  As we slowly slipped into to Greek life on Glisteri beach we began to admire the Cosmas family, in truth we began to feel a little guilty to be watching everything unfold, there was so much to be done and yet nothing was too much trouble.  In the evening the family would drive huge tanks of water from the town on the back of their trucks not just for the restaurant but so the tourists could have showers on the beach.  Sula and her husband Georgeo make a formidable team and to think this all began from Sula selling ice creams on the beach to the tourists.  Even Vangelis her son runs a boat daily from the town to ensure even those without transport can enjoy the environment and the fantastic food and fresh fish that is created in the kitchen.  It  must  have taken a lot ingenuity and hard toil and we told even a little luck, as some of the restaurant was made from timbers washed up and carried up on to the beach, after a shipwreck.  
     
    Sula and Co

    Sula with Louis and Co.

    We visited other beaches on the island which were stony but almost deserted and the incredibly green sea was always inviting.  We even bumped into Louis's adoptive grandparents from the ferry who were so excited to see him again and with Carol translating we could even have a conversation with them.  Skopelos town is beautiful - situated on a hill rising up from the small port it is made up of lots of narrow streets with really interesting shops and pretty houses.  We even managed a bit of night out without the boys and went to a bar overlooking the whole town and the harbor.

    Skopelos at night

    Skopelos Town at night
     
    We took a glass bottom boat on a day trip to Alonnisos with the promise of dolphins.  The dolphins never materialized and there was little to see out of the glass bottom but Alonisos was beautiful.  So close to Skopelos but with a very different character, it seemed more remote with less people and development.  It was very green and looked quite manicured.  We had fresh fish in a little taverna on the harbor and visited some stunning beaches before heading home.
     
    Zach in Alonnisos

    Zach in Alonnisos

    The temperature rose every day and there was little to do in the heat of the afternoon but dip in and out of the sea or collapse in the shade.  The children hardly complained about the heat they just adored even more swimming and were happy to read stories or watch a film in the afternoons.  When we weren't swimming or relaxing we ate and ate!  Skopelos is famed for it's food and as we had no rent to pay so we treated ourselves to some fabulous meals out.  

    Staying cool

    Keeping cool - Stories in the van with 'Anma
     
    Vangelis took us out on his boat and we got to see the lushness of the island from the sea. There are a lot of similarities with Cornwall, the Island has some very dramatic coves, caves and beaches including one of the most spectacular we have seen at Limonari. The people have a certain pride about their Island and are very protective and rightly so, they recently turned down EU funding for an airport, claiming they did not want their Island "going the same way as Skiathos."  
     
    Vangelis's boat

    A trip on Vangelis's boat

    Toward the end of our stay it seemed we might never leave and we might have considered residency with Sula and the Cosmas family if we could be sure we could keep up with them, but we had planned to see Skiathos and draw our own conclusions about this neighboring Island, we said a sad farewell to the Cosmas family and waved goodbye to 'Anma and Carole at the port as we headed off as the advance landing party, we had planned to meet them again the next day and take them to the airport.
     
    Leaving Skopelos

    Leaving Skopelos

    Strangest experience
     
    Hearing strange clomping noises at 5 in the morning outside the awning, it sounded like there were four of five of them, bandits, thieves, pirates, Steve had been reading too many of the kids books however Kate thoughts drifted to thinking it was robbers in flip flops but she didn't bother to check it out.  When we finally put our heads out of the campervan we saw goats that had climbed down from the hills in search of food, how fantastic and wild!!!
     
    Top 3 things
    Greek hospitality
    The beaches and beautiful sea
    Skopelos cuisine
     
    Stats
    Total miles 4,111

    Other pictures we liked

    Blue sea

    The stunning sea

    Anma and Zach

    Zach and 'Anma

    More beach - Alonisos

    Another beach!

    Anma and Louis
    Anma and Louis

    Louis and 'Anma

    On the boat

    Zach on the boat to Alonnisos

    Louis on Vangelis's boat

    Louis on Vangelis's boat

    Glysteri

    The children playing at Glysteri Beach

    Vangelis's boat trip

    More unreal sea!

    Anma - doing business

    'Anma doing business!

    Louis at Sula's

    Lunch at Sula's

    Glysterie beach at sunset

    Glysteri beach at sunset

    Staying cool

    Keeping cool

    Strolling through Skopelos town

    Strolling through Skopelos Town

    Our Ferry to Skiathos

    Our ferry to Skiathos

    Zach and Louis on the Ferry to Skiathos

    On the ferry

  • Week 7

    4 June to 11 June

    And so to Greece - Pelion

    We awoke to heavy rain and strong winds and decided that it was time to go in search of some sun. We packed up and by midday we were heading for the port of Messina and the Ferry from Sicily back to mainland Italy. We knew there was an overnight ferry to Patras, Greece at 8pm from Bari - the other side of Italy, a 7 1/2 hour journey according to our sat nav. We decided to give it a go although it was a mammoth challenge for us all.

    We took the ferry from Sicily to Italy and hit the motorway without delay. Steve kept a close eye on his speed and the estimated time of arrival on the satellite navigation and attempted to knock off the minutes to ensure we could arrive in good time. It was probably the most spectacular drive we have done so far. We passed the coastline up from the heel of Italy along the west coast, then crossed the ankle through the mountains towards the east coast. We had panoramic views of the hills dropping off to the sea in the distance. We finally found some sunshine about mid afternoon. The children were amazing, through the power of DVD's, namely Peter Pan (thanks Nan Nan), snacks, milk and some naps along the way they did incredibly well. We eventually arrived in Bari at 6.45pm having knocked 45 minutes off the the Sat Nav time and with the very real possibility that within less than 24 hours we could have left Sicily and arrived in Greece.

    Kate ran to the booking desk and if we boarded immediately we could have a cabin, we were too late to camp on board as campervans needed to arrive three hours before, but we didn't care as we were going to have beds again!! The ship was once again fantastic, the lift was so plush Zach thought it was our bedroom! We made full use of the children's play room - the boys have sussed that big boats have play areas and it was the first thing we had to go in search of.

    The next morning we docked in Patras and prepared for the mad dash off, as had been the custom on every Ferry. As soon as we drove off the boat we instantly felt that we were in a different country. The landscape was much more earthy and there were vast areas of untouched coastline. In the midst of this there was the most spectacular suspension bridge taking us from Patras on the Peloponnese into central Greece. We were now heading for the Pelion Peninsula near Volos for some chill out time.

    It was another fabulous drive although quite slow and by the time we reached Volos and started to look for a campsite it was late afternoon and we could go no further. By chance we found a perfect spot, Sikia Camping, right by the sea in the village of Kato Gatzea. We had a great meal in the campsite taverna which was practically on the beach and dropped into bed. Just check out your atlas to see how far we had travelled in 2 days! Zach obviously found it exhausting - he slept for over 14 hours!

    SSC_0900

    The beach at Sikia Campsite

    Sikia Camping was really well equipped with a Hotel, restaurant and internet access on our door step - alas no ability to upload our blog. We joined a larger than usual crowd of Austrians, Germans and one UK couple in VW camper spending three months here! It was not what we were used to but an indication that high season was on its way. Once again there were lots of other children on the campsite who Zach and Louis could play with on the beach which was great for all the parents.

    SSC_0903

    View along the beach to Kato Gatzea

    After a few days of a busy campsite and once we had recovered from our journey to Greece we felt the urge to explore and so headed south to check out the rest of the southern part of Pelion. We eventually found Kastri Beach Camping just above Platanias on the south-eastern tip of the peninsula. We loved its remote location and the sign advertising it - "Kastri Camping Opposite Skiathos". It was so peaceful with only two other campervans and one tent. We bagged ourselves another perfect beach pitch and even had the beach shower right by our campervan, perfect for our grubby little boys.

    SSC_0902

    Our pitch at Kastri

    The location was so idyllic. The beach was great for swimming and Steve pumped up the Kayaks once more so we all got nautical again. Steve blagged a boat trip for the whole family from a very friendly German whose motor boat he had helped to launch. It was lovely to see the coastline and check out some incredible villas hidden away. At night the stars were amazing, it was almost a joy to get up in the night to go to the toilet!

    CSC_0893

    Steve and Louis enjoying the sea at Kastri

    We spent some afternoons in Volos which we really grew to like. It had a wealth of shops, pretty squares and street cafes and a grid like road structure which made getting about a breeze. Parking was the only headache and in some places only for the brave as in desperation every inch of space was utilised. We were finally able to get the van washed and hoovered which, in the heat, was great fun for the 5 lads doing it, fighting each other with jet hoses as they worked away at two months plus of filth. It was even more fun for Kate and the boys on the inside who were thoroughly entertained whilst having their lunch. While we were in Volos we booked our next ferry to Skopelos, a four and a half hour journey away, to join 'Anma next week who was having a holiday there.

    Our first impressions of Pelion was that it appeared to be a relatively untouched part of Greece and in many respects it still is. With its Mountain range up to 1600 metres and dense forest it is ideal for trekking but we had also discovered secrets nestled between its coves. Harbours connected to Villas and pathways to secluded beaches, another playground for the rich and adventurous but all in all a very beautiful and untouristy place, certainly worthy of another visit.

    This weeks top four
    Sikia home-made olive oil
    Kastri Beach Camping
    Volos street chic
    A clean campervan!

    Stats: Total miles 3,966

    Strangest experience
    Travelling so far in such a short space of time.

    Other pictures we liked this week

    CSC_0894

    Louis swimming

    SSC_0896

    Watching boats go by at Kastri

    SSC_0897

    Milk time!

    SSC_0898

    Zach just hanging out!

    SSC_0899

    Zach off kayaking

    SSC_0901

    Louis on the 'stone' having a very serious chat with 'Anma!

    SSC_0895

    Zach - milk and i-pod time!

  • Week 5 - part 2 and Week 6

    25 May to 4 June

    Sicily

    The campsite in Cefalu was a real find. It was great to be able to see so much sea and sky from our pitch and we made full use of the swimming pools which we often had to ourselves. The small swimming pool was fabulous for the children, both of whom were confident enough to jump in from the sides without being caught.

    Cefalu itself, just a ten minute drive down the coast, it's an enchanting town. Perched beneath a enormous rock face, its buildings and streets spill down from the spectacular Duomo directly onto the harbour and shore. The long, sandy beach was fantastic. Lined, in the Italian way, with row upon row of sun loungers and a few very relaxing beach bars. It was a lovely place to meander about and with the sea so close it was perfect for the children to go for a big run when window shopping got a bit too boring!

    On our second day in Cefalu Louis turned two. He didn't really take much notice of his birthday until after his afternoon nap when he demanded "presents", "cake" and "candles". We had promised to take him to a toy shop to choose a present and then go in search of some cake so we set off into Cefalu. We found an amazing little toy shop and went in search of something small enough that we could pack away into the van. Louis, however, had some very grand designs in mind and as for Zach you can imagine his delight and the hours he could have lost in this small shop. Zach was unsurprisingly very sure of what Louis would like however we managed to settle for some animals and a tree house in a bizarre scene with these environment rescuers equipped with a variety of cameras, a first aid kit and bandages for the Orang-utan!! It's obviously very popular in Italy as there was shelves and shelves devoted to various scenes from this programme. We then found a lovely little restaurant overlooking the harbour to have a bowl of spaghetti to celebrate.

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    Sunset from the restaurant on Louis's Birthday

    We ended the evening in a bar by the beach where we ordered a chocolate cake that turned out to have marmalade stuffed inside, we put candles in and sang "happy birthday." Louis was delighted and we had to re-light the candles several times. The cake turned out to be as disgusting as it sounded but Louis was certainly impressed.

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    Happy Birthday Louis!

    The day after Louis's birthday we met up with Andrew who had arrived for a holiday. It was so great to see him and the boys loved having him around. Our days and evenings here were very different as Andrew had joined us, or we had joined him, and his encouragement to explore the local restaurants was something we could not refuse.

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    Uncle Andrew

    We had a stunning meal at the foot of the Duomo where we ordered a "big fish" as the waiter described it. We waited hours for it to be cooked by which time the children had fallen asleep and missed dinner. When it arrived the waiter could hardly carry the platter. He dissected it for us and dished up huge pieces of fresh fish. It was really delicious and we had a lovely evening. We were however shocked when the bill arrived to see that the fish alone cost about a week's camping bill!

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    Cefalu Duomo

    As the time progressed the weather turned more and more unpredictable culminating in stormy, wild, wet and windy conditions. There were incredible storms at night where we could see the lightening strike out over the sea and then the thunder would shake the campervan. During the day on the beach the lifeguards screeched their whistles at anyone who ventured more than three metres into the sea. Fortunately we could enjoy the swimming pool and we did go to the beach where Zach managed to get some fun out of the body board again.

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    The beach at the campsite

    Campsite life was a bit more family orientated here as many Germans schools were on holiday, which meant Zach and Louis had lots of playmates. They became part of a gang of boys who would all zoom about the site on their bikes and scooters or sharing their stash of toys with parents keeping a watchful eye. Every so often it would be someone's mealtime or bedtime and parents would be chasing about trying to reclaim their unwilling children who would be happy to play all night. As people came and left the campsite we would often end up with different children popping up and joining us with their toys, a proper travelling playgroup. What was most impressive as we watched Zach and Louis was the way they chatted to each other children oblivious that they spoke a different language and remarkably they all seemed to understand each other.

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    The campsite playgroup!

    Steve and Zach managed a very windy cycle ride into Cefalu. Red flags again adorned every part of the beach and in tandem they battled their way along the shore line and of course rewarded themselves with yet more ice creams on arrival. Unfortunately most of the ice cream was lost to the floor as the sun melted them quicker than you could lick and the wind blew what was left straight off the cones.

    From Cefalu we travelled across Sicily to Toamina on the East coast to spend yet more time on another superb pitch, virtually on the beach. We did have to laugh at the name of the site however - Paradise International! We enjoyed a few days on the beach in the sun before the storms set in again. The rain finally encouraged us to take a trip into town. Taomina is stunning, perched within the cliffs all traffic is banned so it is the perfect place to take a wander. Despite the rain we had a lovely meander through the town and a fabulous meal although occasional drips of rain escaped through our shield of sun umbrellas.

    We also took a nose at Andrew's posh hotel which was something out of a 60's James Bond movie, complete with underground cavernous walkways both to the pool and the beach. The slumleys certainly saw what they had been missing, not to mention the satellite TV, mini bar, en suite bedroom with walk in wardrobe and clean sheets!!! What a room, still decorated in 60's style and space enough for four campervans, luxury!! The boys had their first bath in weeks which they loved and thought it was hilarious to chase around the room naked except for bubbles.

    The names Blonde!!

    The name's blonde!

    The weather really began to deteriorate and the prospect of a sunny day seemed further and further away, it was the daily campsite chat with our neighbours and we had to postpone any thoughts of a trip to the top of mount Etna at some 3000 metres for a another holiday. We instead went of Syracuse, which was where we spent our first ever holiday together in 1989 the year we became, "Kate and Steve"!!! The old town was about all we could remember and it was lovely to see the harbour and enjoy lunch along the terrace with the boys.

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    Syracuse harbour

    On our return from Syracuse we were met by some sunshine and Andrew waiting for us on the campsite beach in a speedboat he had hired for the afternoon. We spent a fabulous evening zooming up and down the coast. The kids thought is was brilliant and at the end of the evening Louis didn't want us to give the boat back to the rental man! Actually I don't think any of us really wanted to give it back! Kayaking just won't be the same again!!

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    Zach driving the speedboat

    Sicily Top Three
    Big Fish
    Little Brother
    Speedboats and the jet set lifestyle, just a taste!!

    Stats:
    Total miles travelled 2,004 time spent on the road, so chilled out now we are this far South it doesn't seem that important besides Louis has been getting his paws on the steering wheel and cleared the vehicles computer.

    Strangest experience

    Having lunch in Syracuse, 18 years on, with two little boys, what a journeys we've had together and to be sharing them now with Zach and Louis!!

    Other pictures we liked this week

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    The stormy sea at Cefalu

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    Stormy weather

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    Louis

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    Zach

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    Louis

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    Andrew and the boys on the beach at Cefalu

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    Andrew and Louis aboard the speedboat

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    Coming into the harbour

  • Week 5 - part 1

    21 May to 25 May

    Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and the boat from Naples to Palermo

    The trip along the Amalfi coast was truly breathtaking. The scenery was incredible, towns and villages clinging for dear life to the towering rock faces which make up the coastline and crystal blue waters below. The road itself was however terrifying. Heart stopping hair pin bends, narrow twisting roads where only two vehicles could pass if one was hugging the side of the road. We had numerous near misses with all manner of vehicles we met, all clambering for space along the roads, that literally, in some places appeared to have been stuck on the edge of the rocks. Around most bends we would find ourselves navigating by mirror in order to see if it was clear to proceed or if we were to be confronted by a huge tourist bus, scrapping its way along the coast. (We later found out that large Campervans, unlike ours, are not allowed along these roads and we can certainly see why, it would been hell to keep bumping into those as well). It was an amazing experience but we were in search of somewhere a little more relaxing to stay so we decided to head as far along the coast as possible.

    Amalfi roads

    The Amalfi coast road

    We ended up at Camping Nettuno, almost at the end of nowhere in the small fishing village of Marina Del Cantone. There was a small beach backed by a few bars and restaurants. The place was really sleepy and had a real charm about it. As well as having a diving centre you could also go on boat trips to the Island of Capri and to Amalfi itself however we stuck to terra firma and drove into to Sorrento for the day, just half an hour away. Like most of the town in the area, Sorrento is built into the cliffs. We meandered through the town along some beautiful cobbled streets which wound their way down to the port. We met bundles of tourists mostly lost and mostly American.

    Sorrento

    Sorrento

    We had some nice beachy days on the rocks and shingle beach near the campsite and walked to the local village for dinner one evening. Our next consideration was how to get to Sicily where we were meeting up with Andrew who was going to be on holiday there. We could drive down along the foot of Italy or take a boat to Catania from Naples. We decided to go to Pompeii first as it was only an hour away and see how our day panned out.

    Pompeii

    Zach and Louis in Pompeii

    The ruins of Pompeii were remarkable. We picked up a guide book which had fabulous overlays which helped us explain to Zach and Louis how Pompeii had looked before the volcano erupted. They spent most the time fascinated by the first page which showed the volcano in the background erupting and the people running, in horror, for their lives. Despite the hoards of tourists, the vastness of the ancient town accommodated us all. It was amazing to walk along streets made from the original stones the Romans laid. It is possible to see how houses were configured and even who lived in them. The ceramics, such as jugs and urns, which have survived look so familiar it really is possible to imagine how people lived here. The most horrifying display was of plastercasts moulded from where people died. You can see the despair in the way their bodies are positioned. The whole town dominated by the shadow of mount Vesuvius which is visible from every part of Pompeii - a constant reminder. We couldn't help wondering why Naples has been built in such a precarious location under the volcano as Pompeii is such a horrific reminder of the power and destruction of it. Scientists say it is a question of 'when' not 'if' Vesuvius will erupt again.

    In Pompeii reading the guide book

    Reading the Pompeii guide book

    We walked for over three hours through Pompeii before we headed back to our campervan. Louis shouted "volcano coming" and Zach shouting "run" all the way back to the car park. With thunder rumbling in the distance it wasn't all that funny! It certainly speeded up the process of keeping us all together and getting out, and clearly amused those we passed by. We got back to the van just before the heavens opened.

    Volcano

    Vesuvius at dusk

    We decided to take our chances and turn up at Naples Port to see if we could find a boat to Sicily. We were greeted by a bustling, pushy city as we forced our way through the traffic to get to the port. The place was heaving with people and we had to be on our guard as beggars and sales people tried to get us to part with our money, legitimately or otherwise!! It was a shock to be somewhere so utterly chaotic, where people were so unhelpful and angry - every ticket booth seemed to have people shouting and screaming at each other.

    After what felt like hours we established that we couldn't get a boat to the Aolian Islands, which are close to Sicily and we would have liked to have seen, as it was the wrong day. We then tried to get a boat to Catania but they were all full which left the last cabin to Palermo. We snapped it up and rushed to the ship with little time to spare. The boys were so excited to be on a boat and to have to use a ladder to get into the top bunks. We were almost as excited to have a cabin with freshly made beds. We had dinner in the boat's restaurant before we set sail with the most incredible view of the sun setting over the bay of Naples and the ever present Vesuvius in the background.

    Bay of Naples

    The bay of Naples - our dining view

    The ship had everything - swimming pool, casino, bars and restaurants, even a late night disco. Unfortunately we didn't bring our dancing gear and instead settled for the children's soft play area, milk and an early night!! We woke up to the stunning sunrise out of our cabin window. As we sailed into Palermo the cliffs glowed orangey-pink in the morning light. The ship docked at 6.30am and we carried, the still sleeping, children down to the campervan.

    Palermo at sunrise

    Approaching Palermo at sunrise

    It was a mad dash off the boat and into Palermo and a bit of shock to find rush hour in full swing so early. We carved our way through Palermo and decided to head for Cefalu and by 8.00am all was calm and we were sat on the deserted beach basking in the morning sunshine. What a journey! We left in search of a good campsite and found one just outside Cefalu, with a perfect pitch right opposite a vast swimming pool and smaller children's pool overlooking the sea. It was as near perfect as we could find having already checked first with a trip up the coast with no better alternative.

    Campsite in Cefalu

    Campsite in Cefalu

    Cefalu

    The beach at Cefalu

    Top three things this week
    The crazy Amalfi coast road
    Sunset over the bay of Naples
    Cabins on boats - the kids slept so well!

    Stats
    Distance travelled since UK: 2004 miles, plus a lot of nautical miles, distance from London, if you wanted to join us, the most direct route would mean covering 1,654 miles which would take 26 hours and 5 minutes , without a break!! Time we've spent driving about, 61 hours 16 minutes and a lot of breaks.

    Strangest Experiences
    Watching the Champions League final, Liverpool v AC Milan with half a dozen Italians, a German and a Canadian, in the local bar/mini market, as people popped past by to pick up a bag of crisps from behind you or in front to select their vegetables, at least you could order a beer.

    The ruins at Pompeii with their immense history of culture and creativity, yet a strong feeling of loss and tragedy beneath the ominous backdrop of Mount Vesuvius.

    Other photos we liked this week

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    Zach in Sorrento

    Up Pompeii

    Up Pompeii!

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    Kate and Louis in Pompeii

    Cabin

    Our cabin on the boat to Palermo

  • Week 4

    14 May to 21 May

    Elba and Rome

    We've been on Elba for a week in total. Mostly we just enjoyed the local beach but did manage to tear ourselves away a couple of times to explore other parts of the Island. We discovered some spectacular hill-top views and amazing towns and castles perched up high with stunning panoramic views of the coastline with mainland Italy hazy in the distance.

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    Evening view from the van

    We spent an afternoon in the local town of Porto Azzuro. It was a beautiful little place with cobbled streets, alleyways and window boxes bursting with geraniums crammed into every available space outside every house and restaurant. It was a great place to meander, popping into back-street delis to buy fresh bread, fruit and cheese and browsing the chic boutiques. It was also the perfect place for another ice cream which we ate overlooking the harbour watching the super snazzy yachts hang out.

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    Views across Elba

    Finally it was time to move on. Our next destination was Trevignano on the shores of Lago di Bracciano, about 50 minutes outside Rome. We came here to visit Kate's cousin, Emma and her husband Stef, who has been living in Italy for the last five years and have two beautiful girls similar ages to Zach and Louis. As we headed towards Rome it was really fascinating how the landscape changed. Coming off the motorway and on to smaller roads, we passed ruins that gave us a strong sense of Roman history. We were also amazed at the surrounding fields which were shockingly red with millions of poppies. We had a fabulous time with Emma, Stef, and the girls and we also managed to catch up with Kates Aunt and Uncle on the last day of their holiday. Zach and Louis really enjoyed the company of English speaking children but also the array of new toys and a safe garden to run-around in.

    Family

    Children playing with Mummy's cousin's children - what does that make them?!

    We had found another fantastic camping location right by the lake and nestled ourselves under some amazing trees that lined it. They spilled out pollen like candyfloss and the ground was thick with, what felt like fluffy cotton wool. The children might have thought they were in heaven and could have been walking on clouds except that Zach was sure it was bubbles. After a few days however the stuff was getting blown everywhere - up our noses was particularly unpleasant - and we were far less enthusiastic.

    Louis and swan

    Louis lakeside

    We took a drive around the lake. It really is a very beautiful place. As we visited one of the lake's beaches one afternoon we came across numerous diving classes, up and down the beach which Zach and Louis found extremely exciting as one of the books we have with us is about Dougal the Deep Sea Diver. It was easy to see how the lake plays host to some pretty swanky people. The Castle Odescalchi above it in the town of Bracciano. hosted Tom & Katie's (Cruise) wedding and next month Will Smith is due to renew his vows there after ten years of marriage. Apparently the local Italians were less than impressed with the celebrity lockdown last time and are equally less impressed by the forthcoming event. Alas we have to pass on being around for such a joyous occasion as we are off to the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii and Naples. Sorry Will!

    Top three things this week
    Elba
    Soft play area for the children on the Ferry from Elba to the mainland. We don't think they even noticed they were on a boat!
    Lake life

    Distance travelled since UK: 1322 miles, plus some nautical miles, via the ferry
    Time spent driving about (total): 36 hours 54 minutes

    Strangest Experience
    English company and the children playing and talking as if we were all back at home enjoying summer in England - warm, blue skys and sunshine!!! (or not as the case may be!)

    Other pictures we like this week

    Bronzed Goddess with kids in van!

    Bronzed Goddess with kids in van!

    Sharing an ice cream

    Louis and Zach sharing an ice cream

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    Zach listening to the i-pod

    Nature!

    Zach and nature!

    Mummy relaxing

    Mummy relaxing

    Deep discussions about ants

    Deep discussions about ants

    Cycling around the campsite

    Cycling around the campsite

    Boys on the lake

    Boys on the lake

  • Week 3

    6 May - 13 May 2007

    Pisa and Elba

    This week quickly ran into the next as we found ourselves staying in Laigueglia for a total of five nights. We soon realised that this is one of those places you could so easily get stuck, which would have been perfect had we not planned such a big trip. It was also hard to resist blowing our budget in beachside cafes and bars which all looked so inviting for a coffee, fresh juice, ice cream or beer depending on the time of day. So it was time to stop swanning about and head further south.

    We packed up our gear and in no time hit the road again for for Pisa. Having had most of the other campsites to ourselves for the past two weeks we arrived at the Pisa site to discover a mass of campervans/caravans and occupants of all nationalities, shapes and sizes. The site was really close to the leaning tower so we took to our bikes for a family cycle ride into Pisa. The inviting cycle path running outside our campsite turned into manic roads after about 30 metres. Having fought our way through the chaotic traffic we turned off the road towards the tower and were faced with a sea of tourists. We thought we were travelling out of season and it would be a quiet affair but oh no, there they all were, in their droves. It was such hard work on the bikes we had to lock them to the nearest railings and go by foot.

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    The Leaning Tower of Pisa

    The crowds, the tourist tat stalls, the touts selling knock off sunglasses nor the police on huge motorcycles sending them fleeing could distract anyone from the amazing sight of the leaning tower which was truly captivating against the back drop of blue sky. It is just so mesmerising in the piercing bright sunshine illuminating the white stone of the tower and surrounding buildings. Zach was just so amazed that someone could make such a cock-up building something as simple as a tower! Later that evening he drew a picture of it in our scrapbook and when asked what it was he said "it's the leaning tower but I drew it straight"!

    Pisa

    Pisa

    We went back the following day to climb the tower but children had to be over 8 years old and looking at the size of the gaps between the railings at the top this was actually a bit of a relief! Instead we took a lovely walk around the pretty streets and down to the the river. While there are some other tourist attractions, you can imagine it would be such a sleepy little place if it wasn't for the tower. We stumbled upon a fantastic park for the kids which had an amazing half submerged climbing frame of a ship which they loved. Reflecting on past experiences this made us consider how our travelling and cultural experiences of a country have changed so significantly. Perhaps we should just concentrate on touring children's parks across the world! In many respects we have already started.

    After just a couple of nights in Pisa it was time to set off again. Luckily we all thoroughly enjoy beaches so after a flick through the Lonely Planet, and on a bit of a whim, we headed for the island of Elba. The boats leave from the port of Piombino about an hour and twenty minutes away avoiding the highwaymen - toll roads, from Pisa. From there we took a boat to Portaferraio, in Elba. Thanks to a huge soft play area for children on the boat, it was a very relaxing journey.

    The island has a population of 30,000, and is located between Corsica and mainland Italy. Napoleon was exiled here in 1814 for a time before he met his Waterloo. This Island is a real gem, fabulous beaches, coves and mountains, we cannot believe we had never considered it as a destination before. Driving around the island is amazing, across the lush fields there are views of the sea in every direction making you loose all sense of your bearings. The roadsides are bursting with poppies and other wild flowers.

    After a good look around we finally settled in the most idyllic spot overlooking a small bay and headland in the distance. All our wishes have been granted in this one spot. The sunsets are amazing making writing this all the more pleasurable especially with a bottle of Nastro Azzuro or glass of Gin and tonic, for the ladies, Kate's off the white wine and now on the hard stuff!! Our camp site is really beautiful with tall pine trees and birds that sing us to sleep as well as the morning chorus. In fact they just don't shut up, it so surreal, could it be piped bird song? We might be able to disconnect the speakers!

    Sunset

    Sunset across our local beach

    We are literally a hop, skip and a jump from the beach, we know this because Zach does it every day and an extra few kilometres up the beach and back if the mood takes him. Being so close makes the whole transition from camp to beach nearly seamless as we to and fro throughout the day as the children's and our needs dictate. As we are so close to the waters edge it felt like the ideal time to pump up the Kayaks and head for open water. Zach and Louis could not wait to jump aboard with Steve for the maiden voyage. As the three of them paddled around the bay the peace and tranquillity was divine. The boys lapped up the experience and listened intently to the waves lashing the boat. Unfortunately it wasn't long before pirate songs rang across the bay and renditions of 'row, row your boat' shattered the air, much to the bemusement of the local Italians! Luckily Zach loves wearing his life jacket and when questioned why he liked it so much he said "because it keeps your clothes dry". The next day was rougher and the boat went over twice sending him headfirst into the water!

    Kate and Louis in the Kayak

    Kate and Louis Kayaking

    Two days in and beach life is really suiting us. We're even considering not moving for the next three months! As well as the beach there is a playground just a few metres from the campervan which Louis frequently takes himself off to. Also close by is a great restaurant which also has internet access so we have been able to get the blog underway as well as catch-up on e-mail. It also serves up fantastic food, not to mention the well stocked bar, shame we forgot to pack baby sitters!

    Internet cafe

    Uploading the blog in our local internet cafe with Zach supervising!

    Tonight the children craved hot cross buns and asked for them in chorus to Steve, so he nipped across to the restaurant and bought them the nearest thing he could find, apple strudel. It went down perfectly and so did the children, out like a light and not a peep until 8.00 am, magic!! Our days are pretty much filled with castle making, watching the many kite and wind surfers, sailing boats and rowing our Kayak around the headland to some caves, just so Zach can check for pirates and treasure. We even had a day of surf action with Zach hurtling beach bound, on a body board (or buggy board, as Zach calls it). With a helpful shove from Steve just at the crest of each wave, he can really get up some speed. His face as he headed for Kate and Louis was a grinning from ear to ear as he gripped on hard to try and stay on. He did have the occasional wipe out but in true surfer style he just wanted to get back on and even stand on the board if he could. "Not just yet eh son". It has been a fantastic week, the Italian charm has certainly wooed us and the people here could not have been more helpful or welcoming.

    Top three things this week:
    Island/beach Life
    Kayaks
    'lami (Salami) - as requested by ex-vegetarian Louis!

    Distance travelled since UK: 1281 miles
    Time spent driving about: 34 hours 34 minutes

    Strangest Experience
    Loads of prostitutes dressed in fluorescent miniskirts, gaudy jewellery and thick pink lipstick popping out of the maize fields dotted along a rural, but busy, tree-lined road, just outside Pisa. It was only about 1pm!

    Where to next:
    Still heading south down the west coast of Italy - Rome

    Other pictures we liked this week

    Ice Cream

    More ice cream eating in Pisa

    Veiw from Van

    View from the van (Elba)

    Steve and Zach in the Kayak

    Steve and Zach in the kayak

  • Week 2

    30th April - 6th May

    When it rains rise above it

    We continued our stay in Annecy enjoying, the mountains and luxury of having the camp site virtually to ourselves, it was just too good to leave. Before we did set off again we had some good cycle journeys and, when the weather turned, took a trip to Chamonix to see the snow. We found the trip up to around 1,500 metres astounding, avoiding the toll roads our route took us up many hair raising, hair pin bends.

    In Chamonix we took a tiny train (train du Montenvers) up the mountain to the glacier (Mer du Glace) at 1,913 metres. The children of course were ecstatic about a 20 minute train ride up the mountain, but our minds were on the two hundred and eighty steps down to the glacier. Noone mentioned the fact that we had to take a near vertical Gondola ride first. Zach and Steve thought it was amazing while Louis and Kate weren't quite as comfortable hanging off a bit of wire half way down a mountain. Wow this place with snow down to the resort must be awesome.

    The glacier

    Mer du Glace

    Once we were safely down the steps we could enter the glacier which was a fab and weird experience. As well as some strange historical displays etc there was also an old man with a PC and an array of cameras focussed on a glacier scene with a (real) St Bernard dog. Sadly it was one of those moments with kids you could not say 'no' to, hence the photo.

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    The Photo!

    Having enjoyed the mountain scene we felt the urge to head for the seaside, the weather had closed in, so we bolted to Italy. And so we find ourselves in Laigueglia a beautiful little seaside village between San Remo and Savona. We have the most fantastic sea view from our campervan and have seen some great sunrises. Although set back a bit from the beach we can here the waves and the fisherman in their boats at night gathering the morning catch. The town is typically Italian, cobbled streets, little alleyways, piazzas, geraniums - it's lovely just to meander about. There is even a great park for the kids full of immaculately turned out , well-behaved children while ours run wild, barefoot wanting to wee in the nearest bush!! The beach is unbelievably immaculate. The sun loungers are meticulously lined up to within the nearest centimetre (we actually saw a lady with a tape measure) and the beach is sweeped clean daily. There are no loose, unorderly beach towels to be seen unless you head way up the beach, even the waves seem to break in uniform here!! Zach and Louis quickly got into the swing of beach life, although obviously not the neat and tidy part of it, in fact I'm sure they took great delight in messing up the neatly swept sand! With their reluctance to wear clothes or take showers, preferring a dip in the waves, they were in their element.

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    Louis's new house

    Louis's language continues to develop at an alarming rate, especially his command of international languages. At breakfast the other day he even said "Ciao, Bonjour and hello" in one sentence, taking us all by surprise. His latest delight has been mastering the phrase "hang on a minute", with the word 'minute' taking a good few attempts before he cracks it, chuckles to himself and looks very proud. Zach has been at his happiest simply rolling in sand, chattering away to himself or running in any direction to inspect the next array of play things that adorn every beach bar. He is certainly taking his role as big brother more seriously although at varying rates dependant on what day it is but generally he is exceptionally caring towards Louis. Overall they are getting on really well, engaging in conversations together and playing lots of imaginary games, with Zach in charge of course!

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    Refreshments

    This weeks top three things:

    1. Tunnels through mountains, slicing hours of journeys and giving us that James Bond, 'spy chase' feeling!!!
    2. Gelati - Italian ice cream, in abundance, five scoops please!!!
    3. The seaside!

    Strangest experience
    Being mugged all the time by road tolls which actually slow us down, modern day highwaymen!!

    Stats
    Distance travelled since UK: miles
    Time spent driving: (approx.)
    Camp sites: 4
    Days Away: 14

    Where next:
    Heading South along the coast towards Roma

    Other favourite pictures of the week

    Blowing bubbles

    Blowing bubbles in Annecy

    Bed time

    Bedtime

    Zach on his bike

    Zach on his bike

    Steve and Zach cycling

    Steve and Zach

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    Roadside snack

  • Week 1

    23 April - 30 April 2007

    Setting Off

    We finally left England on Monday (23rd April), having decided that we could spend weeks getting ready especially when the weather at home was so glorious. Finally, however, it started raining, so we took this as a sign and made a dash for Dover where we caught the first available ferry. It all seemed so unreal leaving a grey and foggy England we were in a bit daze as we crossed the Channel.

    We were as vague about our leaving date as we were about where we might end up in France. Even our first night was completely unplanned but to our delight we came across a very beautiful campsite in a small town called Guignicourt, about two hours from Calais. We perched our camp by the edge of a tree lined river, thankfully fenced away from our intrigued children. We spent one night here as the lure and excitement ahead was too great to get the true measure of this site, and so our adventures begin.

    Guingicourt

    Guingicourt

    We are writing this from Annecy, a lakeside town at a mere 448 metres high at the foot of the Alps and about three quarters down the east side of France, near Mont Blanc. The weather is amazing, cool nights and blazing hot days, in April, even though we can see snow-capped mountains from our van. It's beautiful, although so busy as today is 'Marathon du luc'. This place is completely action packed. You can do any kind of sailing, rollerblading, cycling, paragliding activities you can imagine and there is a frightening amount of men in lycra! It has a 20km, two lane, cycle track along one side of the lake which boarders our camp site and allows us a quick escape route. We managed about 8km which we thought was quite impressive with two small children in tow. The scenery is absolutely breathtaking with the backdrop of snow-capped mountains down to the lushness of the lake.

    Camping in Annecy

    Camping in Annecy

    This is all in great contrast to Dienville, near Troyes, a sleepy little village where we have spent the last few days. The landscape was completely flat with fields, many golden yellow, as far as the eye could see. Each morning Steve and one of the children cycled to the boulangerie to buy fresh baguettes and croissants - Sainsburys Local is never going to be the same again! It was mostly a 'chilling out' time and we just spent the days swimming (in the campsite pool and the lake), cycling and getting used to living in the van.

    Dienville

    Dienville

    The kids have been in their element - outside living is suiting them perfectly - lots of action, getting grubby and nature! They've changed so much in just a week, what's 4 months going to do to them?

    Cheeky Louis

    Cheeky Louis

    Dienville

    Dienville

    Our greatest pleasures and discovery so far has been cycling with the children - we only really brought the bikes as an afterthought. The children absolutely love it and France has presented us with some really safe opportunities to go out an explore on two wheels. Zach has been as proud as a King wearing his Spiderman helmet as his crown, perched on his bicycle "throne" which attaches to Steve's bike when required, thanks to a cunning device called a Trailgator, a bit like a tandem. (If only we'd brought a suitcase full of them we could have made our fortune the amount of interest it has generated). We could not believe how easily he took to it and managed to peddle/hang on for 25km in one day. As for Louis, he has been seated on the back of Kate's bike equally enjoying his new found elevation and view on life.

    Steve and Louis Cycling

    Steve and Louis off to buy bread

    Top 3 items this week:
    1. Satellite navigation/PDA
    2. Bikes
    3. Sunshine!!

    Strangest experience:
    Oddly, checking our emails and surfing the net on a camp site in our campervan via WiFi. Oh how I love gadgets!!

    Stats:
    Distance travelled since UK: 619 miles
    Time spent driving: 14 hours 19 minutes (approx.)
    Camp sites: 3
    Days Away: 7

    Where next:
    Mountain driving and snow, perhaps, and the seaside!!
    Nice, maybe via Turin, a la Michael Caine, without the bank job and "blowing the bloody doors off"!!

    Some other favourite pictures of the week

    Travelling

    Travelling is just so exhausting!

    DSC_0036

    Cooking

    The boys in the van

    Boys in the van

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