Kiri and Steve.co.uk

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We’ve come a long, long way together…

October 16th, 2014 (by Steve)

… through the hard times, and the good. To be honest, it seems much longer than the 19 months that we have shared together. After a few hiccups in our early relationship, which were resolved by spending a lot of time together, Bertha (who did you think I was talking about?!) turned out to be reliable, steady and dependable; we really couldn’t have asked for more. We couldn’t have completed our adventure without her. It must have been love, but it’s over now.

P1050906

For the last couple of months, this van that was born to be wild has been sitting sad and lonely on the drive; she just can’t wait to get on the road again. And so Bertha decided that it was time to move on and find new carers. Breaking up is never easy, I know, but we wanted to make sure that her new home would be a good one… we didn’t want to sell her to someone who wouldn’t care for her. So when Mark and Clare came to view Bertha, we were trying to discern whether she would receive the love she deserves from them.

We were convinced. They are such lovely people and we have no doubt that they will treat her well. In fact, we’re excited to hear that Mark has plans for renovating the outside to add to the renovations we did on the inside. The icing on the cake was when Mark said that if we ever want to visit Bertha, we are welcome to take her away for a little trip. It’s re-assuring to know that there’s a possibility that we’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when… but I know we’ll meet again. Maybe some sunny day? Maybe not… to be honest ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, adieu our Bertha. Thank you for the memories; I hope you had the time of your life. We certainly had the time of our lives. But now, as we head off in one direction, you can go your own way. Will we miss you? Yeah, probably. Are we going to cry? Na na na na. Na na na na. Hey hey. Goodbye

Posted in Bertha, KIST 2EU | 2 Comments »

Buy-buy Bertha

September 22nd, 2014 (by Steve)

Think of a friend who has been beside you for some of the greatest moments in your life, but also in the struggles. Thought of one? Good. Now imagine selling that friend (bear with me; I know it’s an odd concept). Bet you can’t. But for us, it’s sadly necessary (please read the next sentence before calling the police!). The friend in question is obviously Bertha. She’s carried us safely through many countries and been there as we’ve laughed, cried, shouted, sung and danced. As our big adventure is over though, we’re looking towards our next big adventure… starting a family hopefully… which we’ve heard can cost a little bit of money. Therefore, it’s time to bid farewell to Bertha.

Having passed her MOT with flying colours, we promised her a bit of a pampering session to remove 20 countries worth of mainland European dirt, grime and squashed flies. Inside wasn’t too bad… after all we’ve been living in her full time, so we’ve kept her in good shape. The outside? Well, our thinking when travelling was that she’d be less of a target for thieves if we let her be a bit grubby. Now was her chance to shine again.

We think she scrubs up quite well! And so to eBay, where we’ve listed our beloved Bertha under the impersonal title of 1990 Talbot Express Autotrail Chinook with 11 months tax and MOT. This factual, sterile and clinical listing hides the many months of time, money and love that we’ve invested in making her our home… in fact, the first marital home we have owned. How do you put a price on that?

Well, ideally we would have liked to have listed Bertha for over £7000, but we are well aware that whilst in the care of one of her previous owners (or maybe several of them), there was damage to her rear. Whilst we haven’t been aware of any ongoing adverse effects or any deterioration since we replaced the floor in one of the rear corners, the fact remains that she does have this imperfection. Therefore, we’ve priced her to sell at £6500… although we are open to discussing sensible offers.

ebay

We can’t really believe that it’s time to say goodbye to Bertha – it seems like no time at all that we were picking her up from her previous home near Portsmouth. However, good times must come to an end and although she’s served us really well, we think she’s ready to be cared for by someone else. It will probably only sink in when there’s an empty space on the drive where she used to stand…

So, it’s over to you. Can you offer Bertha the love, support and companionship that she yearns? She won’t let you down, and you can’t use the excuse that you don’t know where she’s been…!

Posted in Bertha, KIST 2EU | No Comments »

Great expectations

September 5th, 2014 (by Steve)

Hindsight is a funny thing. We thought that we had a pretty good idea about what we were letting ourselves into when we set out in Bertha. So, let’s look back on some of the questions that people asked us prior to the trip, including the answers we gave then and our answers now we’ve actually done the trip.

Which countries in Europe are you going to visit?

Where are you going first?

  • France – it’s quite difficult to avoid (not that we want to avoid it!)
  • France was indeed the first stop of both loops. We took 4 days to get to the Swiss border on the first loop, then only 1 day to get to the Belgium border on the second loop. We spent a few days in the south of France on our way to Spain in January and a few days in the north of France at the end of the second loop, but aside from that, we’ve left France for exploring properly at a later point in our lives.

How long are you going for?

  • A year…but with a gap in the middle, as our breakdown cover requires us to return to the UK after 180 days. We’ll use this as an opportunity to visit friends and family that we’ll no doubt be missing by then.
  • In reality, this turned out to be 8 months on the road, with a month back in the UK between the 2 loops. We were right about missing family and friends though; they were the biggest draw back to the UK for us.

What will you do if you get pregnant?

  • After extensive research we have concluded that it won’t be possible for Steve to get pregnant, so we’re not worried.
  • No medical miracles here.

What languages do you speak?

  • We both have GCSE French…and Steve can say “with cheese” in many languages, but otherwise we’re a little stuck. We’ll make sure that we can say a few basic phrases in the language of each country that we visit so that we can at least start conversations without using English
  • We were quite successful with learning a few stock words and phrases for each country we visited, although Greece proved to be the trickiest (due to the different alphabet). Often I’d start a conversation with a practised phrase, then have a moment of panic when I realised I didn’t understand the response and therefore would have to revert to English. As we spent such a short time in each country, I don’t think the languages had time to make it into our long term memories!

Do you know a lot about engines?

  • It depends on your definition of “a lot”. If by that you mean “very little”, then yes. We do have breakdown cover that covers us across the whole of Europe and we will have duct tape, cable ties and a hammer to hand.
  • Our knowledge of engines has certainly grown in the last year as various things have needed to be tweaked. Our two breakdowns turned out to be very minor problems; the first a blocked air filter (caused by a leaky exhaust manifold which we fixed between the two loops) and the second a disconnected idle cut off solenoid. Not bad at all for a 24 year old motorhome. The duct tape, cable ties and hammer were all used at various points, but not on the engine!
    The morning of the first breakdown; checking oil level

What will you do if you meet a bear?

  • Kick it where it hurts. Maybe not. We’ll probably have to get some bear pepper spray as apparently motorhomes can be a little vulnerable. Either that or we’ll rig up an electric fence to the solar panel which should suffice in the daytime…! We don’t underestimate the danger of a bear attack
  • We didn’t meet any bears. In fact, we didn’t have any run-ins with wildlife, apart from mosquitoes! Actually, that’s a lie. A duck flew into Bertha in the early hours of one morning as part of what we can only assume to have been a mating ritual.

Are you taking an umbrella?

  • Probably not…although we will no doubt find some rain as we travel. We’ll make sure that we’re well kitted out for all weathers, but in as lightweight and quick drying a way as possible
  • Although it didn’t always feel like it, we actually had a lot of dry days as we were travelling. We did actually take an umbrella, which came out probably once or twice as we preferred to wear waterproof coats.
    weather

How are you funding a year of travelling?

  • We’re mainly paying for this as a result of living frugally and saving over the last few years, but we have also been thankful for money that people gave as wedding presents. It may be that the money doesn’t last a year… in which case the trip will be cut short
  • Well, the money did last a year. Our frugal living had to continue on the road as well to make sure that the money lasted, so we had very few meals out and always thought hard about paying for visiting attractions. But there was so much that we could do, see and appreciate for free in each country, that we didn’t feel like we were missing out just because we were keeping an eye on our budget.

There were some areas of our travels where we realised how naive we’d been in our expectations (thinking that we’d be able to cover the WHOLE of Europe in a year), but other areas where we were spot on. One of the biggest lessons that we’ve learned from all of this is to not hold on too tightly to plans and expectations. It’s when we’ve ventured into the unknown and just gone with the flow that some of the most exciting things have happened. Let’s hope we can carry that forward into our lives post-trip.

Posted in KIST 2EU | 4 Comments »

What Bertha did next

August 30th, 2014 (by Steve)

Exam season. Those sleepless nights as you wait to hear the results of your loved one. The inner searching to decide how to react if the results aren’t quite as you hoped. Well, as it happened, we needn’t have worried about the MOT. I mean, we would have still loved Bertha had she not passed first time and we would have even paid for resits, but it was lovely that the only unexpected work she needed was a fresh rear numberplate light.

So we’ve been back in the UK now for nearly 3 weeks and our feet have hardly touched the ground. Between catching up on paperwork, filling in tax returns, visiting family and trying to negotiate the Hollywood contracts for “Bertha – the musical” we haven’t had much time for Bertha since her exam success. But as our time with her is coming to a close, we’re pampering her a bit; getting her ready for some new owners. First job; the fresh water tank.

Do you remember the “fun” that we had in Slovakia when it fell off? Our angel, Eddie, was indeed right when he said that the ratchet strap would hold it until we got back to England, but now was the time for a permanent fix.

before

With the ratchet strap and duct tape removed, the broken bracket hung down; still surprisingly strong. But not quite as strong as the nuts and bolts that connected the bracket to the chassis… nicely welded shut with 24 years of rust. After a good hour under Bertha, during which time I managed to break a socket, a hammer and my phone, I finally resorted to the hacksaw for the stubborn nut and bolt. Bertha is surprisingly well constructed!

broken

With the old stuff gone it was plain sailing to create a new, strong sling from a 20mm builders’ band. I can’t say I’m a fan of the original straps that were used (sorry Autotrail) as they have a tendency to drop with the weight of a full tank, hence our original problem. Saying that though, the other original strap still appears to be doing its job quite well, so it made sense to leave it be.

after

So that’s all done. Next job? Cleaning off 12000 miles worth of mainland Europe dust and dirt without disturbing any of Bertha’s seals. Maybe we’ll just book her in for a luxury spa treatment. After all, she deserves it!

Posted in Bertha, KIST 2EU | 2 Comments »

How green is motorhome living?

August 21st, 2014 (by Steve)

11878 miles at just over 20 miles per gallon. That’s approximately 594 gallons of petrol. Or 2700 litres. We always knew that we’d get through a lot of fuel on our trip, but that’s A LOT of fuel. Around 35% of our budget for the trip ended up in the hands of big oil companies. That doesn’t sit particularly well with us, but it got us thinking about how green motorhome living is… and just to clarify, I’m not talking about painting a motorhome green:

Would we trade Bertha in for a motorhome like this? Absolutely!

So let’s start with the fuel, as that’s the most alarming headline. As a 24 year old vehicle, Bertha’s fuel efficiency and emissions aren’t the best. Using a carbon emission value of 8.91kg of carbon per gallon burned, on petrol alone we’ve possibly released around 5300kg of carbon over 8 months of travelling. In comparison with air travel over the same distance (0.277kg per passenger mile for 2 passengers), that would have been 6580kg and if we compare it with long distance rail travel (0.185kg per passenger mile for 2 passengers), that would have been 4394kg. Don’t get us wrong; it’s a lot of carbon, but suddenly motorhome travel isn’t looking as bad as first thought.

If we had chosen to do our travelling by train, we would have then had to think about accommodation on top of that (not physically “on top” obviously) and the heating and lighting carbon costs incurred there. As Bertha’s leisure batteries are hooked up to the alternator, some of the combusted petrol would have gone to recharging them, with the rest of the recharging being performed by our solar panel. We chose our electrical devices carefully in terms of consumption (for example “dumb” phones instead of smartphones and LED lighting throughout) and as we were using so little, we are confident we could survive off-grid indefinitely. So, aside from the one-time carbon cost of manufacturing the solar panel, our electricity usage was effectively zero carbon.

Re-sealing around the solar panel to ensure a watertight seal

As electric heaters use masses of power, we used our gas heater in low temperatures, as well as using gas for our water heater, our cooking (on the hob; we removed the oven to give us extra storage space) and our fridge (when parked up). We used approximately 140 litres of LPG in the trip (about £87 worth). Now I haven’t examined our domestic gas usage in terms of volume, but certainly in terms of cost you’d be talking about more than £87 worth of gas for 8 months. It’s hardly surprising that we used less gas than we would in a house, as it’s a much smaller space to heat. So from a gas-usage point of view, again, motorhome living is looking quite good.

Probably the one utility that we were most aware of in terms of usage though, was water. Unlike a house, you don’t have a pipe connecting you to the mains; the only water that you have in a motorhome is that which you carry and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Using figures from the Consumer Council for Water, a 2 person household with a low water usage (55 cubic metres per year) will get through about 150 litres per day. Bertha’s fresh water tank holds 40 litres. A full tank would last us at least 3 days of wild camping (unless we were hand-washing our clothes). So how did we reduce our water consumption?

  • When running the hot water, we caught it in a container until it got hot, then used that water later for cooking
  • We brushed our teeth from a cup so we weren’t running unnecessary water away
  • We didn’t use the shower in Bertha, instead washing ourselves from a bowl with about 2 litres of water
  • We didn’t wash ourselves as frequently as we would in “normal” life. Kiri and I had different ideas about when it was necessary to wash… to clarify, I’m the dirty one!
  • Flushing a chemical toilet only uses a cup full of water, as opposed to up to 13 litres with household toilets

Now I try not to have too many vices in life, but I love a good, hot shower, so it was a real luxury to arrive at a campsite and realise that we could have a shower or use a washing machine! So, motorhome living again is looking pretty good in terms of water usage.

Finally, we come to recycling. In the UK, we’re keen recyclers and try to put as little as possible in the bin. A couple of years ago we even experimented with giving up buying things in plastic for Lent. When travelling around, especially in different countries, things get a bit harder though. There’s no regular collection and different countries have different recycling facilities. Finding them was sometimes a bit of a challenge, so we couldn’t always recycle. One thing we did notice (and really like) was the “pfand” system (direct translation is “ransom”) in place in several countries. When you buy a bottle (plastic or glass), you pay an extra little deposit on it. Then when you’ve finished with it, you return it to the place you bought it from, and get your deposit returned. In the case of glass bottles at least, the bottles are re-used rather than recycled; probably a less energy-hungry process.

Overall, I think we’ve probably been living a greener lifestyle in the last 8 months than if we were living in a normal house. So is there anything that we can translate back into our lives in the UK? Maybe. I guess the main thing is that we’ve learned to be frugal with the resources we’ve had. However, there are some slightly more wacky ideas that we might try to follow up. As toilets are the biggest users of water, we might do some research into composting toilets. We also think that the idea of hooking up a solar panel to a 12V battery, then charging things from that might have some mileage. We’ll see!

Posted in KIST 2EU | 3 Comments »

Cost of motorhome travelling around Europe

August 16th, 2014 (by Steve)

Once upon a time, a girl had a simple dream to travel around the world. She didn’t mind how. She didn’t mind where. She would just blow with the wind. One day, she met the boy that she knew she would marry. In the run up to their marriage, they talked about the dream and the boy liked the idea of it. Only he liked to plan things. So he started to ponder and research how best to stretch a small budget to see as much of the world as possible. Accommodation and transport would be the biggest cost; how could they be combined to save money? A motorhome. As planning intensified, it became clear that the geographical boundary would need to be mainland Europe… but how much does it cost to tour Europe in a motorhome? Enter pioneering data-lovers Adam + Sophie and Julie + Jason with very thorough accounts of their motorhome trips around mainland Europe. After scouring their records, the budget was set; £1000 per month.

Roll the clock forward a few months and the boy and girl were… stuff this, I’ll stop talking in the third person. We thought that a year would be a good time frame for travelling, so we’d need £12000 once we’d bought the van. Our first year of marriage was a very frugal one as we put aside as much money as we could on top of what we’d already got in savings (from regular saving over many years as well as wedding gifts), but we reached our target amount. To cut a long story (which is all documented in this blog!) short, we finally set out on the trip 3 months after we’d originally planned, having spent the budget for those 3 months on getting Bertha prepared… and living during that time. Add a month back in the UK in March, seeing family and having more repairs performed on Bertha, and we ended up spending 8 months in total on the road… coming in a little under budget.

Now one thing we learned from our pre-trip research was that as there are many different ways of travelling and many different types of motorhome, there’s no right answer to the question “how much does it cost?”. Add exchange rates into the equation (when we started our travels it was 1.17 euros to the pound, and it peaked at 1.27 euros to the pound) and even if a right answer existed, it would be subject to change. In efforts to try to give a broader idea of costs (i.e. not just our own), here are links to cost breakdowns from other European motorhome travellers:

And us? Well, we travelled 11878 miles over 242 days between 2013 and 2014. These figures though hide the fact that in reality ours was a trip of two halves where we did things differently in the second half. On our first loop, we travelled 7368 miles as opposed to only 4510 miles in the second loop. Both loops were roughly the same length (122 days and 120 days respectively) but by co-incidence we only drove on 91 of those days on each loop, giving an overall mean of 65 miles per driving day.

Most of the costs of a motorhome trip are dependent on how many days you’re on the road… apart from fuel, which depends on the number of miles that you’re travelling. So, what was the damage?

  • Adam + Sophie – 17p per mile in a 7 year old panel van conversion
  • Julie + Jason – 17p per mile in a 21 year old a-class motorhome
  • Stu + Sarah – 27p per mile in a 5 year old coachbuilt motorhome
  • Us – 26p per mile in a 24 year old coachbuilt motorhome

However…it’s worth noting those that these figures are based on cost of fuel rather than fuel efficiency. As we found out, the price of fuel varies massively between countries, so assuming that a high cost of fuel correlates to low fuel efficiency isn’t a given. Additionally, fuel efficiency can be affected by many things; quality of fuel at pumps, the terrain and driving style to name just some. However, does choosing a coachbuilt van over a more streamlined a-class or panel van conversion make a difference in cost? It would appear so. Does the fuel type make a difference too (Bertha being the only petrol van)? Maybe… in hindsight it might have been cheaper for us to convert her to run on LPG, but we have no concrete figures to back up that suggestion.

So moving on from the cost of travel, we come on to the cost of living. This is so subjective; if you were to stay on a campsite every night and eat out at restaurants the whole time, of course your cost of living would be higher than if you were to aim to stay on aires / wild camp and cook in the van the whole time. There’s also the question of whether you take toll roads when you travel and how many galleries / museums / attractions you choose to pay for. For this reason (and because we’ve all used different categories!) it’s unfair to directly compare how the different couples chose to live on the road.

However, there is an interesting comparison between the first loop of our trip and the second in terms of what we spent. On the first loop we covered a lot more ground, and were at the receiving end of great hospitality at a lot of different projects that we helped at. We also took ferries from Greece to Italy, then from Spain back to the UK (rather than from France), which made a massive difference, as did the unexpected Swiss breakdown. With the second loop, we travelled at a more leisurely pace and were a lot more self-sufficient (although we were treated like royalty by the people we visited in Germany + Belgium).

loopcomparison

But overall, leaving petrol aside as we’ve already determined that it’s based on mileage rather than how many days you’re on the road, this was the distribution of costs:

pie

Food + drink covers supermarket shops and everyday eating
Overnight stay covers campsites, guarded car parks etc
Utilities covers water, electricity, gas (for cooking + heating), clothes washing, phone + internet etc
Supplies covers toiletries, video camera tapes etc
Treats covers meals out, entrance to attractions, beer, wine etc
Transport covers tolls, vignettes, public transport, repairs to Bertha

Whilst this could be broken down further into costs per country, we’ve found from our own figures that this can actually be misleading. Where we were about to cross a border from a “cheap” country to an “expensive” country, we made sure that we stocked up on food and fuel in the cheap country. Similarly, we would let supplies run low in the more expensive countries if we knew we were moving to a cheaper country. This had a smoothing effect on the country averages; making the expensive countries seem cheaper and the cheaper countries seem more expensive. But then again, the definitions of “cheap” and “expensive” countries is subjective.

So, the moment you’ve been waiting for; the total cost per day of life on the road for us was… wait for it… £33.45. Much cheaper than living in London!

overallcost

However… it should be noted that none of these figures include vehicle tax, vehicle insurance (which isn’t insignificant if you’re full-timing), travel insurance and breakdown cover. But, the good news is that depreciation on second hand motorhomes (or in our case an eleventh-hand motorhome!) is minor if you take care of it. Once the adventure is over, should you choose to pass on your home to another keeper, it should be possible to get back near enough what you paid for it (or at least that’s what we’re hoping).

There are many more caveats that could be added to this data, but hopefully this gives a rough idea of what your trip around Europe in a motorhome might cost. Go on, you know you want to!

Posted in KIST 2EU | 4 Comments »

Bertha vs. Bertha

August 13th, 2014 (by Steve)

The clash of two titans. One has travelled thousands of miles, bringing chaos to transport systems; the talk of the media in the UK despite it being near the end of its journey. The other is, of course, a hurricane. Yes, as we settled down for our last few nights of the trip, we were ready for anything.

Our penultimate destination was the lovely town of Montreuil sur mer. We’re not exactly sure why it’s “sur mer”, as it’s not even near t’ mer, but nevertheless it’s a lovely town. Our aire for the night (two nights in fact) was a gravel car park next to the town petanque club. We thought we might be in for a bit of a noisy night when a van load of boy racers rocked up, skidding around, however they were just there for a civilised game of boules. Lovely really. What was a shock to the system though was the number of British numberplates we saw and British speakers we heard. Maybe it was some kind of gentle introduction back to life in the UK, but it was a bit strange to be able to understand so much of what was going on around us. Whilst the wind did pick up overnight in Montreuil, we’d hunkered down in the shelter of a larger motorhome and slept soundly. So, we think our Bertha won round 1 of the meeting with the other Bertha. It might have been through hiding / cowardice, but that’s still a win!

montreuil

With mixed feelings we headed up the coast to Calais, for our final overnight stop of the trip. Night 241. That’s a lot of nights… and we couldn’t help but be happy that we would be returning to the UK to some kind of familiarity and normality. But at the same time, this has been our life for the last 9 months… well, longer than that if you count all of the time spent preparing Bertha too. Were we ready to give it up?

frenchweather

We’d heard a few horror stories of aires in Calais not being safe, so we mused on whether we might have an extra story of robbery and intrigue following our stay there. Happily for us, but sadly for the interest of the blog, the only excitement was the return of Bertha (the storm that is). After a night of torrential rain (as our Bertha didn’t leak, we’ll count it as a draw rather than a victory for the other Bertha), we chomped down on a pain au chocolat before heading to the ferry… on which we consumed a croissant each too.

ferry

And then we were back on British soil. Accompanied by a “Home” playlist compiled by Kiri (including Billy Joel, Kate Rusby, Green Day, Martyn Joseph, Bright Eyes and of course Lynyrd Skynyrd), we remembered to drive on the left and were home before we knew it.

So that’s that then. 4510 miles covered in the last 4 months to add to the 7368 covered on our first leg.

loop2

What next? Well, we’ve put Bertha in for her MOT (our van, not the storm), and now we’re catching up on 4 months of paperwork – tax return here I come!

Posted in KIST 2EU | 3 Comments »

Another breakdown (in communication?)

August 10th, 2014 (by Steve)

“I don’t think I could cope if we broke down today”. We’d just topped up with petrol in France; being forced to go with SP98 (the 98 refers to the amount of octane in the fuel), as they had no SP95 which we normally go for. We knew that SP95 E10 (the E refers to ethanol) wouldn’t work in Bertha, but we were fairly sure that we should be fine using SP98. A little doubt remained though as we switched our wipers to full to try to clear the torrential rain from our windscreen. With visibility down to about 50 metres, we slowed right down. Suddenly… BANG.

rain

A bang is never a good sound to hear in Bertha. Especially not when coupled with the oil warning light coming on. Either we’d run over some foreign object, or that was a misfire. Fortunately, by now we’re dab hands at breakdowns (this being the 3rd of the trip), so with hazard warning lights on, we drifted to the side slowly, at which point Bertha’s engine cut out. Good. Something in my subconscious told me we would be better off the motorway and as we were inches before a slip road, I tried to turn the engine back on. Just the standard turning over and a clicking sound… nothing more. It was difficult to see whether it was smoke, steam, or just spray coming from Bertha’s bonnet, but deciding that caution was the best option, we grabbed our coats, hi-viz jackets and warning triangle and bundled out of Bertha.

We needed to call our breakdown company, but without much credit left on our phone (deliberately, as we were only 4 days away from returning to the UK), the first job was to top up. Which we needed to do online. By now the rain had eased to a steady pour and we could see that there was no smoke coming from Bertha, so we hopped back inside (along with several gallons of water), onto the laptop, got online and topped up the phone (getting an extra £2 credit – bonus!) before calling Britannia. They then reminded us of the breakdown rules on French motorways. As we didn’t want the hassle of walking to the SOS box and really didn’t want to disturb the police we tried the ignition again… which fired up immediately with no warning lights. Cautiously we crawled off the motorway and reconstructed our breakdown configuration, whilst I pondered the higher grade fuel we’d used and whether that might be the cause.

breakdown

When we called Britannia again, the hold music was, ironically, “Happy“. I spoke to a guy called Steve, who said he’d pass on our details to IMA. Shortly afterwards IMA called us and I spoke to a different guy called Steve who told us that a recovery truck would be with us within an hour. So we had lunch; one of the benefits of being in a motorhome when you break down!

When the French mechanics arrived (neither of them called Steve), I explained the situation in broken French (although IMA Steve said that he had told them already). The mechanic then pointed at the non-illuminated oil light and said that we’d have to go to a Peugeot garage. Not good news; we hadn’t had a particularly positive experience with a Peugeot garage in Switzerland. After turning Bertha round, we hopped out of her and watched her being winched onto the back of their truck, giving the fresh water tank a good old scrape on the ground on the way. Accompanied by Queen and the Bee Gees we headed in the direction we’d just come to the Peugeot garage, where Bertha was unceremoniously dumped outside… again, with a good old scrape of the water tank.

berthaontruck

At the Peugeot garage reception, our mechanics took charge, explaining that there was a problem with Bertha’s oil and that we should call our breakdown company to get a taxi to a hotel. Ummm… sorry? They then disappeared, leaving us unsure what was going on. Eventually a Peugeot mechanic sauntered over and asked where the oil leak was. It was apparent that we were in the midst of another breakdown – this time in communication. We got the bi-lingual IMA on the phone again to act as translators whilst someone checked the oil level (unsurprisingly, this was fine) then started to fiddle around with the carburetter.

After a couple of minutes during which we heard the word “carburateur” being spelled out on the phone to IMA, the phone was handed back to us and we were alone once more with Bertha. The guy at IMA (sadly, not Steve) then explained that “a line” going into something that he didn’t know the name of (I suggested “carburetter” and he enthusiastically agreed) had been loose and was now fixed.

We’re not really sure why Bertha was carried 15km out of her way just to re-attach “a line” (which, with the help of the guys at TalbotOC.com we’ve diagnosed as the connection to the idle cut off solenoid), but hey ho, we were on our way once more with the only cost being the tiredness from an emotional rollercoaster (and possibly a little more damage to our fragile fresh water tank)!

carb

Hopefully that will be the last big drama of this trip, but with Bertha’s namesake storm getting ever nearer, who knows?

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Bertha in Binche

August 8th, 2014 (by Steve)

As we arrived into the province of Luxembourg (in Belgium) from Luxembourg (the country) having missed seeing Luxembourg (the city)… all very confusing… we realised that our view of Belgium as a flat country was incorrect. You see, as we passed through Belgium on the outbound leg of our second loop we experienced a very level country of Flemish-speakers. Coming in from the south, it was a different picture with rolling hills and a French-speaking population… as well as amusingly-named towns… I wonder if they’re M+S?

bras

After spending a night next to a babbling brook in the south east of the country, we ventured to Binche to help at a church there for a few days. Charles + Frances are friends of our parents and they lead the Eglise Protestante Evangelique de Binche. We’ve tried to visit a church most Sundays of this trip and at times it’s been a bit daunting to go to a new place where we don’t know quite what to expect and how we will communicate. Church should be a place where we join with others who have a similar outlook and focus in their lives, but actually, sometimes our fear of potential awkwardness and the unknown become a barrier. Some Sundays it’s been much easier to just spend quiet time together in Bertha.

But in Binche we were in safe hands with Charles + Frances. After getting Bertha plugged in and being given a very warm welcome, a hot dinner and a refreshingly cool bed (sometimes it gets a bit hot in Bertha), we joined them on Sunday morning at their church. Kiri was set to work on the djembe during the songs as well as painting a picture of a doorway to illustrate the passover story. Charles had provided me with a rough outline of his talk in French, which I was just about able to follow, but it was good to tune my ear in to Frances’ translation into English too! After the service we had some lovely conversations with other church-goers, although due to our poor language skills some of them had to be quite simple. And then our first Sunday roast in a very long time!

At every project that we visited in the first loop, our focus was on how we could serve. This might have been our sole project of the second loop, but we still had the same focus; offering to help in any way that we could. Although we jet-washed some peeling paint on lintels, washed and vacuumed a car and helped to lay part of a new floor in an art + prayer room, we came away afterwards feeling like we’d received far more than we’d given.

On Monday evening, we joined Frances + Charles at their English conversation group; a great bunch of local people who meet together to practise speaking English. We’d timed our visit pretty well as it coincided with a barbecue they were having, where we had great fun as well as great food. Occasionally the conversation would lapse into French (or even Dutch!) and we’d be straining to catch the gist of what was going on, but most of the time everyone was really keen on practising their language skills. Which worked well for us! One particular moment of joy for us was the amazement that the local Belgians had at seeing chocolate cornflake cakes that Frances had made.

On Tuesday, Kiri was invited along to a ladies’ group meeting where she shared about our trip with the ladies of the church. She talked about the people we’ve met on the road and the qualities that we’ve learned from all of them. There was then a discussion about the variety of churches that we’ve been to (when we’ve been brave enough to actually go to church!) and how all of us are part of one body.

Throughout our few days with Charles + Frances, mealtimes were probably the times we valued most, and not just because we ate some incredible food. As we ate, it was great to talk deeply with them about our faith, our lives and our aspirations for the future. We’re not particularly good at small talk, so it was refreshing to get into deep conversations with them, as well as joke around at times too. It was then a great privilege to all pray together before we departed in Bertha.

charles+frances

On a different note, it appears that the media have been going crazy over Bertha’s return to the UK. So, as the BBC asks “What will Bertha bring to the UK?“, we’ll break our silence. You’ll be pleased to know that before we left Belgium, we stocked up on beer.

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Homeward bound

August 1st, 2014 (by Steve)

Walked barefoot in the Black Forest? Tick. Eaten its namesake gateau? Tick. Ticks? Nope (thank goodness)! Now how do you match that? Well, our plan was to see some of the stunning Pfälzer Wald; a low mountain region with great walks through beautiful woodland, rocky outcrops and lakes. What did we end up seeing? Well, something along the lines of this:

rain

As the torrential rain laid siege to Bertha we re-evaluated. We could hang around and hope that the rain would clear, or we could move on. But then we would miss out on seeing something beautiful. It’s a situation we’ve been in so many times on this trip; with a limited number of days and a limited amount of money, we’ve had to miss out some “must-see” places. We’re also getting to the point where we’re so used to seeing new places and having new experiences, that our understanding of “normal” is probably skewed with unnaturally high expectations. Maybe a kind of cultural indigestion (thanks to Uncle Richard for coining that phrase). This is also coupled with a sense of guilt that we’re not making the most of the privilege of travelling. So, to soothe the inner battle, we did as we’ve done many times before and promised ourselves that we’ll just have to come back at some other time, when we can fully appreciate it.

Luxembourg beckoned as our final unique country of this trip. We crossed the border from a cloudy Germany and immediately entered a long tunnel, before emerging into sunny Luxembourg. Now I didn’t think that weather respected borders… but I’m willing to be proven wrong! In fact, the sun remained for the whole of our time in Luxembourg (apart from at night obviously). Our first stop was quite urban, in the town of Dudelange where the motorhome parking was situated between a skate park and a boule court (pitch? green? piste?) – an interesting clash of cultures! The second was in Redange after a gorgeous drive winding through woodland and along tree-lined arrow-straight Roman roads.

luxembourg

It was here, in Redange that thoughts turned to the UK. To home. Well, actually, we’ve been thinking about this for a while (our ferry tickets back to the UK are already booked), but as I filled in my first job application it suddenly felt real. We’re on our way home. In our home. It’s all a bit twisted… what does “home” actually mean? Bertha’s our home. Wherever Kiri and I are together, that’s home. But also the UK is our home. St. Mark’s Kennington (the church we worshipped at in London) is our home. Before we left for the trip, several people warned us that we might find a place that we like so much that we’d end up settling there, but it’s family that draws us back to the UK. They’re home too. There’s no single place or group of people that can represent the concept in its entirety.

After a couple of nights in Luxembourg, we removed a cricket which had taken up residence in one of our roof vents (we’re willing to open our home to others, but not if you’re going to chirrup throughout the night!) and took advantage of the cheap petrol on the border.

And look at that – we’re back in Belgium! We might be homeward bound, but we’re still going to appreciate the view on the journey.

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