Kiri and


Romance in Riga

February 11th, 2017 (by Steve)

Imagine if you were able to time travel – where would you go to? The past, the future? We had an opportunity for a little bit of time travel at the beginning of December; a few days where we were just Kiri and Steve once again without having to think about our child. Believe me, it was weird, weird, weird! But where would we go? What would we do? As we’d missed the Baltics in our travels with Bertha, we decided on a few nights in Riga, Latvia. I’d been before on my own, both in summer and winter and we were hoping for snow. Would guilt at leaving our child override our enjoyment though? Would we find stuff to talk about beyond logistics and the little one back home?

Who knew that in the mind of a small child, you say goodbye through the medium of shoving cornflakes in your Dad’s mouth? It was a straightforward journey to Luton, where we breezed through security, played Uno for a while, then had a very easy flight to Riga, bought our contactless bus tickets (that’s new since last time!) and hopped on a bus into the city from the airport. More importantly, there were 3-4 inches of snow on the ground, so we were straight into playing mode, despite the biting cold. Kiri announced “I can’t tell you how happy I am with my thermal leggings” before proceeding to tell me, at length, how great they were. My Poundland gloves didn’t quite cut it in the Baltic temperatures though, so we picked up some more in a supermarket before heading out in the falling snow to have a lovely goulash for dinner.

It was still bitterly cold the next day, but rainy, leading to a bit of a quandary – do you walk close to the road where you’re likely to be splashed by melt-water, or do you walk close to the buildings where you run a gauntlet of being caught by snow sliding from the rooftops? Our walking tour guide chose the former and was encompassed by a tidal wave created by a passing bus. This was the third time I’d been on the walking tour and each time the guide has presented the city in a different way. This time the narrative was one of an occupied nation, celebrating in 2016 its longest period of independence – 25 years. In contrast to previous tours though, the relationship with Russia was talked about with much more caution – the words chosen very carefully – “I can never view Russia as a peaceful nation” – and parallels drawn between Latvia in 1940 and the 2014 annexation of Crimea. The tour ended at the Splendid Palace theatre with a recommendation to view a Latvian film. Eager to find activities that took us out of the cold, we asked to book two tickets for the following afternoon. The cashier scrabbled around her papers for a good few minutes before declaring “…but it’s not in English?”. She seemed bemused that we still wanted tickets, but nevertheless completed the transaction.

Before the first day was out, I had a promise that I needed to fulfil. As with many cities in Eastern Europe (and more recently Western Europe), padlocks are put on bridges as a way of marking the commitment in a relationship. Many years ago, when I first visited Latvia with my ex-girlfriend, we broke up on the first day of the holiday (that’s a totally different story, but it was mutual!). She made me promise that should I ever get married, I would put a padlock on a bridge in Riga with my future wife. So Kiri and I had come to Riga, with a padlock prepared, which we duly attached to a bridge as a mark of respect, throwing the keys into the water beneath (which confused the hopeful ducks).

That evening we had a hearty meal at Lido, washed down with the sweet, malty, Russian rye bread nectar that is Kvass before heading to the Skyline bar at the top of one of the posh hotels. The first time I visited it, I was young, newly single with a solid job. The second time I visited (6 months later over New Year), I was still young, still single (on the closest I’ve ever been to a “lads’ holiday”) and freshly redundant, with many questions about my future. And here I was, several years on with my wife beside me and our child hundreds of miles away. This was to be an evening of deep reflections and conversations on life aspirations. A chance to be Kiri and Steve the couple, rather than Kiri and Steve the parents. As we took our time to sip on little glasses of Riga’s famous black balsams we were able to reconnect in a way that’s so difficult to do alongside parenting.

The balsams ran out all too quickly though, so we stopped via a supermarket on the way back to our hotel room to grab some more at half the price! We were nearly back at our hotel, wandering down a little alley, when a police van roared past us, stopped suddenly, then turned on its siren. Startled, a cat leaped out from beside us, making us jump, before a huge cascade of ice descended from a roof in front of us. Had the cat not jumped, we would have been underneath it. And the moral of that story? Ummm… cats can sometimes be useful?

That night there was further rain and hail, meaning that there was very little snow left when we ventured out the next day. The temperature had once again plummeted, turning all of the puddles to sheet ice. We spent time wandering around the many Christmas markets and buying a few of the wares on offer. I was particularly taken by how precise the Latvians are when I went to use a toilet:

“To flush, press and hold foot pedal for 3÷5 seconds”… I make that 0.6 seconds. I’m not sure that my flushing is quite that accurate, but I did my best! Leaving the Old Town, we had lunch in the Index Cafe amongst a different crowd – all young professionals and no obvious tourists, as we steeled ourselves for the film.

The film was “Melanijas Hronika“, or, for those of us who don’t speak Latvian, “The Chronicles of Melanie” – starting in 1941 during the forced exile of 40000 Latvians under Stalin’s orders. It was not easy watching – a harrowing and poignant tale with a clear message even if we didn’t understand the spoken words of Latvian and Russian or the corresponding Latvian and Russian subtitles. Reeling, we retreated to the modern luxuries of peace and freedom to unpack this film in a lovely little coffee shop over a hot chocolate. Could something like this happen again? Could it? Surely the voices of reason and justice can prevail?

Our evening was to take on a lighter note as we headed to an underground tavern of hearty food, good ale and live folk music. Our tour guide had recommended that we stick to beers starting with the letters “B”, “V” and “U”, so we plumped for Valmiermuiza and Bauska dark beers. The “beer snack” of garlic croûtons (we prefer our garlic alongside our beer, rather than in it!) that we ordered as a starter would have been sufficient as a main course, but as we’d already ordered mains, there was no going back, so we also chomped down on our half loaves of bread filled with beans, bacon, onions and a cream sauce. And the accompaniment? Some cracking live music from Rahu the fool who were a lot more free than the video in that link suggests, with spontaneous transitions from jazz flute to washboard playing and guitar to banjo. What a great way to end the trip.

We found that 3 nights away had been plenty and by the last morning we were very ready to be reunited with the wee one and return to the rollercoaster of parenting. We tucked into a hearty breakfast once again (our hotel had an amazing buffet each morning including Schoko Müsli (woohoo!), pickled fish, cooked breakfast, champagne and pastries!) before stocking up on balsams at the airport and being whisked back to Blighty. The little one was quite overwhelmed to see us again; running between each of us, beaming from ear to ear. Hearing about all of the fun the grandparents had got up to, we were reassured that we hadn’t been missed that much whilst we were away.

So when are we going away again? Well, there’s nothing planned, but given it’s taken over 2 months for me to find time to write this blog post, it might be a while before we find time to plan another trip!

Posted in Children, KIST 2EU | No Comments »

An ode to Schoko Musli

November 27th, 2016 (by Steve)

So I’m going to let you in on a little secret today. I fell in love on our travels around Europe in Bertha. Before I get anyone worried on Kiri’s behalf, she was well aware of my illicit love, for the subject of my love shared the breakfast table with us most mornings. Yes people, I fell in love with a cereal.

Now I’ve always liked a bit of chocolate in my cereal, having grown up with Weetos and Coco Pops as a treat. However, there’s that goldilocks balance to strike between a chocolately breakfast cereal and one that will properly fill me up until lunchtime. Don’t get me wrong, Coco Shreddies work, but, well they’re out of the question because they’re Nestlé. Sadly no supermarket has stepped forward with an own brand equivalent. So that just left chocolate granola, which is a bit too sweet for my liking or normal fruity muesli, which obviously contains no chocolate. But that all changed on the first day of our trip.

We woke in the little town of Bavay in France, ventured to Lidl and I’ll admit – it was love at first sight. Oats, pieces of chocolate, a few bits of puffed chocolate rice, a few bits of nut. Master Crumble Schoko Müsli. The perfect combination – the perfect balance – the perfect cereal.


Some people think that it was petrol that fueled us around Europe. They would be right. But equally as important was the daily bowl of Schoko Müsli. On our return to the UK I was eager to see whether it had hit our shores, so checked the nearest Lidl… nope. So I checked another Lidl… nope. My quest took me all over the country and… actually, that’s a lie – I just asked them straight out on Twitter:


Little (or should that be “Lidl”…? You see now I’m a Dad I have an excuse for the Dad jokes!) did I know that in the same month in 2015, a fine, upstanding gentleman named Christopher Young (OK, I’ll admit I don’t know the fella and I’m basing this purely on two public Facebook posts!) was making exactly the same request on Facebook:


He’s a motorhomer too. Good chap.

What did it achieve? Well, I got a virtual hug from Lidl – I can’t complain at that, but I’m still waiting for the real thing to be stocked.

When my parents went to Belgium, I asked for them to bring me some back from there. They returned with some lovely Schoko Knusper Müsli; it was close… but it just wasn’t the same

So when I went to France this summer, I made sure I was reunited with my lost love. I even introduced it to my wider family (who agreed that it’s really quite nice). Some people load up the car with French wine on their return. Me? Schoko Müsli.

But that was the summer. The nights have been drawing in. Our ties with the EU are no doubt going to be cut. The country has spoken. Is this the end of Schoko Müsli for me?

People, you can make a different. I beseech you, in a world where hope seems to be failing, where everyone (apart from Leicester City) are asking “what has happened in 2016?”, to stand up and say “I want to try something new – I am ready for Chocolate Muesli”. All you need to do is retweet this:

And one final note. Lidl, I know you will read this. You believe in great customer service. I trust that you will do the right thing. For the sake of international relations. Thank you.

Posted in KIST 2EU, Life | No Comments »

Europe – a new chapter

September 5th, 2016 (by Steve)

Just under two years since we departed mainland Europe in Bertha, we were back in France. Not in a motorhome. Not just the two of us. Nope, with our little one and Kiri’s parents, we squeezed into a family hatchback (with a roof box) with our destination set to be a campsite near a little village north of Bordeaux, where we were to meet up with Kiri’s sister’s family too. Turns out it’s quite a long drive from Calais to near St. Gilles

Having nearly been defeated by the headlight deflectors (those things require a degree to be able to understand the instructions!) we realised less than a kilometre out of Calais that we’d left the sippy cup upside down in the wee one’s car seat. Although there was no complaining, we decided that if it were us, we wouldn’t particularly want a bidet experience on a long car journey, so we stopped at the first aire we came to, unpacked the roof box, got a change of clothes and patted down the car seat. Stopping and starting was to be the order of the day and therefore progress was slow, even though we were on toll roads (a luxury that we decided never to waste on Bertha, with her top speed of 90 km/h). It was a novel experience overtaking slower moving vehicles, although a little disheartening to overtake the same vehicle again after another stop for a nappy change or something to munch. It almost would have been easier to travel in a motorhome, with all facilities on board.


We eventually arrived at the campsite and disembarked into a chalet with a construction reminiscent of Bertha (although a little more modern). And there started our beautiful cycle of hearty meals outside – dinner with local wine, breakfasts of fresh bread, pain au chocolat and Schoko Müsli (more on that in a later blog post… when I next find time to write a blog post!), lunches of bread, olives and a fine array of cheeses. I seem to recall that a few other things happened between these mealtimes, but sharing food together was central to this holiday. I can almost still taste the tartiflette, the boeuf bourguignon and the risotto “with curly meat” (as described by my nephew – “prawns” to you and I). Ah yes, there were other things that happened – icecreams! Most were swiftly eaten and rescued before the hot sun plastered them all over our clothes (although in the case of my nephew his clothes got a pretty good deal), but the decadent flavours of tiramisu, coffee and creme brûlée linger in my memory.



So what was this place that we were staying at? Well it wasn’t just a campsite – it’s a place run by Spring Harvest Holidays and their website describes it as “a setting in which you can be refreshed and renewed: spiritually, mentally and physically”. Sounds too much like organised fun? The great thing was that all activities were optional, so we could dip in and out of things as we wanted. For the first time in, well, a long time, Kiri and I were able to get fully immersed in a bible study, knowing that our little one was having a whale of a time with the grandparents. And what an appropriate time and place to be studying Acts 2 – a chapter in the bible in uncertain times where people were looking for a message of hope in a divided land. Soon after we arrived, our screens were bloodied by yet another inevitable and horrific Godless act of terror near Rouen. We joined together as a campsite to pray for France and all other countries affected by these acts. It’s amazing how much a continent can change in just two years – when we were travelling in Bertha, Schengen was still strong, an EU referendum wasn’t even on the cards and terrorist attacks were few and far between. What will the next two years hold for Europe?

Hmmm, I seem to have digressed a little. Where were we? Ah yes. Kiri and I made it along to a few of the organised sessions, but the rest of the mornings I was based in the 0-3 year old group, mainly being chased around a bouncy castle by boisterous 3 year olds, punctuated by occasionally being hit around the face by a spiderman toy. I thought it would be exhausting going on holiday with 3 children under 6 and I was right (“Why do I need to be quiet? Its 7 o’clock”), but it was so much fun too! With 6 adults, we were able to share the load of childcare and catering (although Kiri and I had the lightest load by far in the latter category) and have a lot of fun playing in the chalet and going to pool together. The incredible weather resulted in me trying to find a hat to wear in the pool (oh, the joys of having thinning hair) which I eventually found in the nearest Super-U next to the meat. Obviously. Mais oui… les chapeaux sont à proximité de la viande! And I even had time to read a whole book. Holidaying with family is definitely a win-win.


This was very much a holiday focussed on family time rather than “doing” stuff, or having adventures. But that’s not to say we didn’t have a few adventures – the two younger generations (bar the youngest member of the family) hired canoes and we had an exciting, if slightly uncoordinated, paddle up and down the local river. In my defence it was my first time in a canoe… I think the same could be said about our niece, but she seemed to pick it up faster than me!


We also had a day trip to Noirmoutier in the rain, planning on driving across the causeway on the way back that separates it from the mainland. Sadly, the sea’s timings were a little off (it definitely wasn’t our timings) and as we didn’t fancy the “risque de noyade”, we took the bridge instead.


Evenings were a time to play board games as the sky slowly darkened around us. I blame my increasing level of relaxation for my fall from grace that took me from winner of Carcassonne in the first game to definite loser by the last. My father-in-law has asked that his 3rd place on the final night be noted for posterity. On the two Fridays we were there, we took part in the pub quiz – unfairly robbed in the first one (we blame a miscount) despite acing a round on identifying European countries on a map (methinks we had an unfair advantage following our travels). The second one was better (4th out of 40 teams) and I am not ashamed to say we aced a round on 90s pop music. You can’t beat a bit of Hanson! Kiri and I even managed a date night where we sat in the bar at an open mic night; taking the opportunity to dream together about what our future might hold.


Suddenly our 10 days were up and we were off, back up the toll roads towards Calais. With our motorhome mindset very much alive, we asked our sat-nav for directions to the nearest supermarket petrol station (1.03 per litre rather than the 1.26 available on the motorway!) when we were running low. It was sobering to end up in the very suburb where the priest had been murdered a week previously. A quiet suburb where the supermarket wasn’t open on a Monday. With a ferry to catch and a young child to entertain in the car we didn’t have much time for reflection as we motored on up towards Cite L’Europe, where we had dinner and popped into Carrefour to grab four of our favourite beers from our trip in Bertha (for those of you who were wondering – Kwak, Westmalle Trappist, Chimay Blue and Kasteel Donker).

And then back to our little London flat with an ever growing and developing child. What a great holiday. Same again next year? Who knows what situation we’ll be in by then.

Posted in Children, KIST 2EU | 1 Comment »

A little bit cheeky?

October 17th, 2015 (by Steve)

Bertha is on the move once again. It was only this time last year that we sold her on for £5300 (a fair price considering the potential damp rear under the bathroom), then we saw she was on Gumtree in April for around £7000 (we assume the new owner fixed the potential damp rear under the bathroom), and now she’s on Gumtree again, listed by someone else for an cheeky £9000! We’re also intrigued that she now averages 25mpg – we travelled 11878 miles in her and she averaged just over 20 miles per gallon. And this is what she’s looking like now:


WARNING: The rest of this blog post is mainly about baby wipes. For those of you looking forward to reading a blog post about motorhoming, we suggest you head in the direction of, as Julie + Jason have just set out again on exciting travels. We won’t be offended if you unsubscribe from this blog!

Right, now we’ve got that out of the way, we can get properly started. We’re parents. You know when you enter a foreign land for the first time, you don’t really understand the culture or language? Well it feels like a bit like that… only when we were travelling, we had the luxury of being able to observe a little before participating. So we’re very much in the stage of looking like tourists, being culturally insensitive, talking slowly and loudly when we’re not understood and generally blundering about the place, probably insulting people’s Mums. But hey, there has been some progress over the last few weeks – at least we’re doing it all with confidence now rather than tentatively and filled with fear like we were at the start.


Once I acknowledged that we were undergoing a recalibration of our lives to a new baseline of existence, it all kind of became easier. Our lives were flipped from being at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to right at the bottom, where life revolves around bodily fluids (input and output) and sleep (or lack thereof), with a little bit of work for added distraction. We are very much indebted to friends and family for their support and a big shout out goes to our church family who provided hot meals for us in the very early days – we felt extravagantly blessed.

“But what about the baby wipes?”, I hear you ask (my hearing has become very keen since having a child, you see!). “You said this blog post was mainly about baby wipes”. It’s ok – here it is.

We’re learning fast that baby wipes form a crucial part of parenthood. At the moment, their usage is solely in the context of nappy changes, but we know from parents with slightly older children that they’re essential for mucky hands and faces too. Now we’re trying to carry through our “green” living into family life and chucking wipes away regularly doesn’t sit well with us. We’re aware that you can get biodegradable wipes, but as we’d inherited some Cheeky Wipes (thanks J+J) we thought we’d start with those.

Basically, they’re reusable baby wipes. You’ve got one tupperware with water (infused with lavender for freshness) containing fresh flannels and another tupperware with water (infused with tea tree oil which has antibacterial qualities) for the used flannels. Once the second tupperware is full, you bung all of the Cheeky Wipes in the washing machine, then start over again. Such a simple system and it feels good to re-use something rather than throw it in the bin.


Even from a cost point of view we’re winning. At the time of writing, you can get a 12 pack of 64 baby wipes for £7 from Boots – that’s 768 wipes at just under a penny each (0.91p). The Cheeky Wipes kit is currently available online for £40. With a very conservative estimate of using 10 wipes per day (as I type we have more than that on the washing line from one day), after 440 days the Cheeky Wipes will have paid for themselves and we will have saved 4400 baby wipes from going in the bin and ending up in an incinerator or landfill. I call that a win.

I haven’t been paid to spread the word about re-usable baby wipes – in fact I don’t see why you couldn’t replicate the system with some cheap towels that you’ve cut up and spare tupperware. However, they’ve been such a success for us that I’m keen to spread the word. Saying that though, if you are inspired to buy some, you can get 15% off your first order by buying Cheeky Wipes via this link, and we get £5 off our next order. Oh wait, I’ve just read the small print, and you’ve got to spend over £40. Maybe not the good offer I thought it was.

In any case, cheekiness awaits!

Posted in Bertha, Children | 3 Comments »

New life

April 6th, 2015 (by Steve)

Easter. The day that we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us and try to get our heads around the fact that he conquered death, so that we might have eternal life with Him. Awesome stuff. Also, this year it was the day that we heard that Bertha has been given a facelift and is on the market once again. We have to say we’re a little surprised that her new owners have decided to sell her on so soon, but she’s looking good.

Photo credits: top two are ours, bottom two are taken from the advert

When we were Bertha’s caretakers we were wary of making to many changes to the outside of her; mainly because we were cautious about damaging her seals. However, we also didn’t want to make her look too attractive to thieves on our travels (which worked out well for us, as we had no break-ins!). However, her new owners look to have done a great job on her; from the photos on the advert we’ve spotted new panelling, a re-painted cab, the rear ladder having been removed and what looks like a new rear bumper (the previous one had damage when we bought her; we think she’d probably had a rear impact prior to our ownership). With the addition of a couple of new vents to help to deal with condensation issues, she’s looking really smart.

But it’s not just the outside they’ve focussed on; Bertha’s now got a new carpet inside and new upholstery (we’ll admit that 8 months of permanent living in her had maybe left her looking a little tired). Under the bonnet she’s apparently also been given a new clutch (it was always a “fun” game to try to get her in reverse!) and the mud and snow tyres that carried us on our 12000 mile jaunt around Europe are listed as having been replaced too.

We found out this February via that our Gaslow (refillable gas system) installation didn’t meet regulations. Although we’d ordered a “normal” gas bottle to start with from Gaslow, for which a single strap is an acceptable fitting, we were sent an R67 cylinder (because the normal bottle was out of stock), for which there are specific regulations. To quote the person on the Talbot forum who raised it:

…the mounting and securing of the R67 cylinder needs to comply with N1/M1, which is a proven mounting system of 20G forward and 8G side to side in case of accident. as you strap is screwed in and a basic fiber strap its not mounted with proven 20g and so forth, and as such vehicle insurances are void

We let the new owners know as soon as we found out and we’re repeating it here, just in case the “new” new owners end up reading this, as we would hate for something to happen and them not be suitably protected.

Anyhow, it sounds like an exciting time for Bertha as she begins her new life full of new adventures. And as for us? Well, we’re settling back into life in London and we’re expecting another “new life”. Now that’s going to be a new adventure!

Posted in Bertha, KIST 2EU | 1 Comment »

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.


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.


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.

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.


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!


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.


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 »