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Gadget Review – the Omnia Stovetop Oven

Gadget Review – the Omnia Stovetop Oven

by Alan Gow  |  September 2018  | Reviews

When we ordered our motorhome Betsy, she was supposed to come fitted with a full gas oven.  However, when we picked her up we were told that there was a problem and it wasn’t possible to install one without significant alterations and cost.  As we love to cook, this was a serious blow, so we immediately started looking for alternatives. We first tried an appliance called a Remoska, which many motorhomers swear by and consists of a roasting pan plus the lid that contains an electric heating element.  While this was excellent for roast dinners and other baking, it had three main drawbacks for us.  Firstly it was big and heavy and took up a lot of room.  Secondly, it was quite power hungry and as we live off grid we have to be careful not to drain our batteries, which limited how much we could use the Remoska. Thirdly, it just stopped working after three months.  Although we got a refund, it wasn’t replaced. After further extensive research, we came across the Omnia – an ingenious device from Sweden which we would now hate to be without.  It is not until you actually have something like this that you realise all of the great food that you are missing out on just because you don’t have the means to cook it. We have been using our Omnia now since October 2017 and have put a lot of other motorhomers onto them.  We mention them on social media a lot and keep getting asked questions, so we decided to put up a review here on our website so everyone can understand what an Omnia is, how it works, and how it would benefit them.

What is an Omnia?

An Omnia is an appliance that you use on your gas or electric cooktop.  This allows you to cook most things that you would normally make in an oven, without actually having one.  The Omnia greatly expands the range of dishes you can cook in your motorhome or boat. There are three pieces to the standard Omnia, (plus two optional extra parts which I will talk about later). These are:

  • the round steel base,  which sits directly onto the gas ring or electric element
  • the aluminium ring-shaped baking pan, which sits on the base and you fill with the goodies to be cooked
  • the bright red lid

The whole device measures just 250mm in diameter, stands 140mm high and weighs in at a paltry 500 grams.  It comes packed in its own neat little bag to keep everything together and tidy. The optional parts are a silicon mould insert which means you don’t have to butter and flour the baking pan each time you use it, and it makes washing up soooo much easier, and a rack which sits inside the Omnia for certain types of baking.

How does the Omnia work?

The steel base sits directly on a gas ring, camp cooker or electric element (not induction though), with the baking pan, then the lid on top. The burner heats the air under the pan and in the top compartment, through the hole in the middle of the baking pan. There are small holes in the lid which let out excess steam. You simply butter and flour the baking pan (if you have the silicon mould then ignore this step and insert the mould straight into the pan).  You then fill the pan with your cake mix, lasagne ingredients, roast dinner ingredients, bread dough etc, pop it on the base, drop the lid into place and centre the whole assembly on your fired up gas ring or cooktop.  The gas is normally turned down close to the lowest setting and then the Omnia is left to do its magic.  Most dishes take the same time as they would in an oven. We had our Omnia for several months before finding somewhere we could buy the silicon mould (from the Jula store in Sweden), and after having used it with or without the mould, we thoroughly recommend the mould is purchased.  The only real pains with using the Omnia were buttering/flouring the baking pan then washing it afterwards, and the silicon mould does away with all that.

Homemade Breads, Cakes and Sweets

Freshly Made Bread

Hot Cross Buns

Omnia Apple Strudel Cake

Moist Orange or Lemon Cake

Chocolate Cake

Sticky Date Pudding

Savoury Dishes to Delight the Tastebuds

Tasty Authentic Lasagne

Sicilian Eggplant Involtini

Individual Quiches

Turkish Borecik

Tandoori Vegetable Filo

Italian Style Meatballs

Would an Omnia Benefit Me?

Well that’s a great question and thank you for asking it.

An Omnia is certainly a benefit for us and if I explain why, then you can decide whether your circumstances are close enough to ours that you would benefit as well.

1. We have no oven so without an Omnia we couldn’t cook cakes, roast dinners, bread, lasagne, scones, quiches, or any of the other beautiful dishes that have come out of our little Omnia.  If you have an oven then you probably don’t need an Omnia.

2. We are very rarely on an electrical hook up so we can’t easily use electrical appliances that consume a lot of electricity.

3. We actually like to cook ourselves and only eat out very occasionally.  If your preferences and budget suit eating out most nights, then you probably won’t use an Omnia often.

4. We wild camp a lot and generally setting up barbeques and Cadac style cookers outside is not permitted.  If you typically stay at campsites and possess these items you may have less use for an Omnia.

5. We really like eating good food and the Omnia makes spectacularly tasty tucker.  We are happy to make the effort to cook food that makes us happy.  If your camping tastes are satisfied by baked beans on toast and you can’t be bothered taking the time to put more than two ingredients together then again the Omnia may not be for you.

6. We are also sailors and recognise that an Omnia would be a great device to have on an oven-less yacht.

If you relate to our situation then you are probably getting just a little excited now and just want to know how you can get your hands on one of these life-changing tools.

But unfortunately (for us), we are not making money from this website or selling anything so we have no magic link we can share to let you buy one easily.  There doesn’t seem to be a current UK distributor however many of the camping shops in Europe have them in stock and there are a lot of authorised European online retailers who I am sure would ship to Great Britain and other European locations.  For an online retailer, we suggest you go onto the Omnia website resellers page.

We have seen Omnia and accessories for sale at many locations around Europe and the prices do vary.  The three-piece base unit ranges anywhere from €37.50 through to €60.  Then the silicon mould is priced at about €16 to €19.  The rack insert is another extra item, however, this isn’t something we use a lot and I wouldn’t really recommend this as being critical to your gastronomic success.  You can also buy a thermometer with a spike which passes through one of the holes in the lid to read the actual temperature.   We don’t have this so can’t comment on how well it works, however, we seem to do fine without it.

We have shared quite a few Omnia recipies on our Recipes page.  There is a great Facebook Omnia Users group which shares ideas, experiences and more recipes.

If you buy an Omnia, please let us know how you find it and share any great recipes you find or come up with.  We are always looking for new tasty stuff to try out.

Bulk Cooking To Save Gas

Bulk Cooking To Save Gas

While traveling through Finland we had to conserve gas because there is no LPG available in this country.

We, therefore, headed to a camping ground to make the most of their cooking facilities.  Check out below what we cooked.  

Interestingly, we found that this has given us more time in our evenings and we are now looking at bulk cooking more often.

To access the recipes so you can make these yourself, please click on the recipe title.

Do you do this, and if so, what are your ‘go to’ recipes?  Please share.

Swedish Meatballs

We first cooked this in…., you guessed it Sweden.  The sauce is delicious and we managed to freeze extra sauce for future meatballs.

Caponata

We first learnt how to cook this flavour packed dish at cooking classes in Palermo, Sicily, Italy.  This can be scoffed warm when first made or cold on fresh white crusty bread.  The vinegar helps to preserve this dish for several days in the fridge.

Aubergine rolls  – Involtini di Melanzane

This is another recipe from Mamma Corleone Cooking Class.  Involtini or Aubergine Rolls are quick and easy to make and provide a yummy dinner, or two.

This is an ideal dish for Omnia Cooking.

Honey-Soy Chicken

With a bit of forward planning you can whip this dish together, pop it into the fridge to marinate and viola it’s ready in time for dinner.  Just throw onto the heat for half an hour and scoff quickly.  If you’re lucky to have any leftovers, they make for a great lunch the next day.

Lemon Cake

We started making this in Greece, due to the large volume of lemons going begging.

The thing I love about this cake, apart from its soft moist texture, is how long it lasts in the cake tin (and freezer).  It looks stunning with the white frosting and can be dressed up for a shared dish with glazed lemons on top.  It is also high enough to be sliced in two and filled with your favourite filled (cream cheese comes to mind).  Give this a go and thank me later.

Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime

Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime

Alan Gow Checked Out the hidden secrets of managing Schengen time restraints
8 March 2018

Don’t Let Schengen Ruin Your European Holiday of a Lifetime

If you are contemplating an extended holiday (more than three months) around Europe then you may want to keep reading.

If either you or your spouse/partner hold a European passport then you definitely need to read this because if you rely on the usual information sources, then you might just miss out on the holiday of a lifetime.

Who am I and how do I know this stuff?

I am from New Zealand and I hold a dual citizenship, (NZ and Republic of Ireland, which is part of the EU).  I am married to a New Zealander who holds only her NZ passport.  We are travelling around Europe in a motorhome for a few years and to ensure we could do this hassle free, I engaged in some extensive research before leaving home.  The potentially most limiting factor was the time allowed to be within the Schengen Zone, which I will talk more about later in this post.  There was so much misinformation and lack of clarity around my situation, that I felt compelled to put together this document to help others to find the answers easily.

I went on a real emotional rollercoaster ride as I would read somewhere that there would be no restrictions on us – yay!  Then an embassy official would say that my wife would be subject to the Schengen restrictions but I wouldn’t – oh crap!  Then I would get other information to contradict this, and so on.  This continued for some months but over this time, as I researched more, my absolute certainty that I was correct grew stronger.

At the end of it all, I found no official website or publication that categorically 100% stated that my wife was, or wasn’t going to be affected.  However, I found many documents, directives and other publications that strongly implied my wife could enjoy exactly the same ‘free right of movement’ as me.  These will be explained later in my post.

What is this Schengen thing?

The Schengen agreement had a great goal, which was to abolish internal border controls within the European Union (EU), allowing passport free movement between countries.  When originally signed in 1985, five countries joined. However, this has now been extended and 26 countries, including four non-EU countries now make up the Schengen Zone.

Tens of millions of Europeans enjoy freedom of movement within the Schengen Zone.

Which Countries are in Schengen?

EU Countries

Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Greece, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Non-EU Countries

Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and Liechtenstein.
Schengen Map showing which countries are in the Schengen Zone

Who has been left out?

Britain and the Republic of Ireland chose not to join Schengen.

Croatia, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania are in the EU but have not yet joined Schengen.

What Does This Mean for Short-Term Travellers

For most short-term travellers to countries in the Schengen zone, this is all good news.  Citizens from a long list of visa exempt countries, which includes New Zealand and Australia, do not require a visa to enter Schengen.  Once you clear immigration at the first port of entry, you are free to travel to any of the above countries without needing to show your passport at any borders.

Citizens who are not from visa exempt countries, will need to apply for, and obtain a Schengen visa.  I am not going into the process for this but there is a wealth of information available on the internet, including on this site.

So, what is the issue?

The problem comes if you are travelling on say a NZ or Australian passport, and want to spend more than 90 days within a 180 day period touring within the Schengen Zone borders.  Because that is forbidden.

That’s right, you can spend about three months within that whole block of 26 countries, then you will need to leave the zone for a minimum of three months before being allowed back in for another three months.  As a non-European passport holder, your passport is (or should be) physically stamped with the entry and exit dates and all data is stored in the Schengen Information System.  When exiting or entering Schengen again, the dates are checked to make sure you have not overstayed your welcome.  Significant fines and re-entry bans can be imposed on those travellers who do not comply.

I guess it made sense back in the day when there were only five countries in Schengen club.  It was common for those counties to grant tourists a three-month entry permit or visa, so when Schengen came into being, it was probably easiest to allow three months within the whole zone to make sure no visitors exceeded three months in any one country.  As more and more countries joined however, this has become increasingly restrictive and senseless (in my humble opinion) for long-term travellers.

I believe that there are moves afoot to create a 12-month ‘ tourist visa’ for Schengen which will certainly ease the problem but who knows when they will get around to that.

For the average traveller shoehorning in a European experience around their annual leave, this isn’t going to affect them.  However, for the lucky travellers like us, who have the opportunity to take an extended time out, this can really restrict where you can go, and when.

What about travelling to Non-Schengen Countries?

Each individual country has its own rules and visa requirements and you are best to research these for the countries you are travelling to.  Britain, for example allows a six months visa free stay for many visitors while most Balkan states (e.g. Croatia, Bosnia, Albania) allow a three months visa free visit.  Turkey also allows a three months stay however most travellers will need to obtain a Turkish visa on-line (New Zealand passport holders are one of the few Turkish visa exempt countries).

Planning around Schengen

Unless you or your ‘registered partner’ are European citizens, there are just a few options available to you.

Plan your travels

The most common approach, for those who don’t have an EU passport, is to plan your travels around the ‘90 days out of 180 days’ restriction.  This means that you must exit Schengen on or before the 90 days expires, and stay out for 90 days.  You can then re-enter Schengen for another 90 days.  In reality this may mean flying over to Britain for 3 months, or driving across the Schengen border to countries such as Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia, Romania or even Turkey, and enjoying their charms for a spell.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and pushes many travellers to experience countries they wouldn’t otherwise have given a second thought to.

You can go out of, and back into Schengen during that 180 days period but you need to keep careful track of where you have been and when so that you don’t exceed 90 days in any 180 days.

Keeping an eye on the seasons while doing your planning is important. We met a lovely Australian couple in Thessaloniki, Greece in December 2017, who were planning on driving up into Bulgaria and Romania for the first three months of winter because they needed to get out of Greece within the next few days.  Now, those countries may be nice during the summer but they aren’t the ideal spot for a small motorhome in a Northern Hemisphere winter.  We suggested they consider Turkey instead and they experienced a fantastic and much warmer time exploring the south of that wonderful country.

Residence Permits

Another alternative is to apply for a residence permit in one of the Schengen countries.  However, these are not handed out easily, normally require you to have a fixed address with a property lease agreement, and a valid reason for being there.  These only give the right to stay longer than 90 days in that one country and aren’t intended for the purpose of then hopping from country to country.  You could theoretically then travel within Schengen and eventually exit from the country from which you obtained a residence permit however this isn’t strictly legal and if caught you could be in serious trouble.

So, short of quickly marrying a local, or having an EU spouse, are there not many ways of being able to extend the Schengen period.

One option that can help is to take advantage of the Bilateral Agreements.

Bilateral Agreements

These Agreements are historical agreements between two countries to abolish the need for visas for non-working stays of up to three months.

New Zealand and Australia for example, established Bilateral Agreements with most European countries up to 50 years or more ago and these have never been cancelled.

Because these agreement pre-date the Schengen agreements, most Schengen countries will still honour them and allow a visitor to have up to three months in their country even if they have just spent three months in other Schengen countries. 

The catch here is that the individual countries seem to have different ways in which they allow these agreements to be utilised, for example, France will allow another three months under the Bilateral agreement only after you have spent your 90 Schengen days outside of France. Germany appears to be very flexible but some, for example, Hungary, require you to enter their country from a non-Schengen country and leave to a non-Schengen country.  Others, such as Italy are no longer honouring these agreements at all.

I strongly recommend that if you want to make use of these agreements, researching them thoroughly should be an important part of your travel preparation.

Contact the embassies concerned to advise them of your travel plans.  Here’s what to ask for in writing:

  • ask for confirmation that the Bilateral Agreement can be used for additional time in their country without reference to time spent previously in Schengen
  • ask about the process and any conditions around how to use the Agreement
  • keep records to prove that you did not exceed the 90 days in any of those countries, i.e. keep receipts.

What if My Spouse or Partner is an EU Citizen?

In this case, travel within Schengen just got a whole lot easier, especially once you know what I am about to tell you.

Firstly though, a simple defacto relationship will not be good enough here.  You must be either married or have a partnership that is ‘registered’ in an EU country, and the EU country you are entering has to treat ‘registered partnerships’ as equivalent to marriages.  Check the individual country requirements as to registered partnerships.

If you qualify, then the overriding European legislation that gives you the right to exceed the 90 days in Schengen is ‘European Directive 2004/38/EC’ which states citizens of the Union, and their family members can move and reside freely within the Member States’.

You should print out, and carry a copy of this Directive with you on your travels.  Highlight and be familiar with the sections that apply to you.

I apologise if this now gets a little detailed but it is vital that you understand your rights and why you have them, if you want to travel freely around Europe.

European Directive 2004/38/EC is a EU wide directive or instruction that the Schengen rules have to comply with, therefore all of the Schengen rules, codes, and regulations are written with this in mind.

Directive 2004-38-EC

In my experience, there is a lack of information, and in fact there is a lot of misinformation about how this applies to the spouse travelling with an EU citizen.

One of the fundamental freedoms of the EU Treaty is that citizens of member states can freely live and work in other member states, within the restrictions laid out in the Treaty.  However, there is no point in a citizen being able to move to another state if their spouse and children are not allowed to join them.  Therefore, Directive 2004/38/EC clarifies that all family members of a Union citizen have the same right of free movement as the citizen themselves.

 

What this means for you is:

  • You and your non-EU spouse can travel to any EU member state (Schengen or non-Schengen) and stay for up to three months with no restrictions. This is known as the ‘Community Right of Free Movement’ – remember this phrase as it’s important.
  • The only travel documents you need are your passports and marriage certificate
  • After three months, you can travel to any other EU member state and live in, or travel there for up to three months
  • This process can be repeated ad infinitum, i.e. forever
  • If you want, you can return to a member state you have previously visited, provided each visit does not exceed three months – again an important point.

What happens at Schengen Borders?

The guards at Schengen border crossings have to abide by Directive 2004/38/EC.  To assist them in correctly processing people passing through the border, a handbook, Schengen Handbook for Border Guards has been produced in all major European languages.

Although the border guards are supposed to know their job, there are still stories around about some of them not being aware of the rights of spouses and trying to deny entry or impose penalties for overstaying the 90 days Schengen restriction.  We ourselves have had two such border crossings so far where we may have been questioned by border guards and we had no problems whatsoever.  The first was from Greece to Turkey and back.  The second was leaving Finland for St Petersburg after eight months continuously in Schengen then returning to Finland a few days later.  On both occasions, my wife and I exited and re-entered Schengen with no questions and without even being asked for our marriage certificate.

You should also print, and carry a copy of this Handbook with you on your travels.  Highlight and be familiar with the sections that apply to you.

 

Schengen Border Checks for Spouses of EU Citizens

As a spouse accompanying an EU citizen you should expect the following at a Schengen border:

  • You should only have to show the guard your spouse’s EU passport, your passport and be able to show your marriage certificate if requested
  • The guard should give your documents only the ‘minimum check’, which is defined as just checking that they are valid documents and show no signs of tampering, forgery or falsification
  • They should not ask anything about your travel plans, where you are staying, how much money you have to support yourself, or question your Schengen entry or exit dates.
  • You can only be refused entry on genuine grounds of national security or public health.
  • Your passport is likely to  be stamped unless you yourself have an EU or EEC identity card.

Note

If you are from a non-visa exempt country, you must obtain a visa to enter Schengen in the first place.  The documents I obtained were not clear on what would happen if your visa has expired and you are exercising your rights under Directive 2004/38/EC.  You will need to do your own research in these circumstances.

Schengen Borders Code, Regulation 2016-399

EU Regulation 2016-399 defines defines how Schengen operates, however it clearly state that the rules “neither call into question, nor affect the rights of free movement enjoyed by Union citizens and their families….”.

What this means is that the Schengen Border Code cannot be interpreted in any way that affects or over-rules your rights outlined in Directive 2004/38/EC.

That sounds clear so what’s the problem?

The problem for me was that before undertaking dozens of hours of research, I didn’t know any of this and most embassy officials don’t know either.  If I had taken the first responses I received as the gospel truth, we would not be experiencing the amazing journey we are on now.  Luckily, I am a bit like a dog with bone about this sort of thing and kept digging deeper.

I’m not sure whether it is deliberate or just ignorance, but the embassy officials were the worst offenders at giving out wrong or incomplete information.  For example, the Italian consulate in Melbourne insisted my wife could only have 90 days and directed me to websites to back this up.  When I pointed out that the websites actually backed up “my” position he quoted lines from the website but added in extra words to support his claim.  When I pointed this out, I heard no more.

During this time, I was also in contact with other potential travellers in a similar predicament and they were getting different advice than me.  For example, the website ‘Your Europe Advice‘ is an official public service from independent lawyers giving advice on EU law.  After asking very specific questions, I finally got the advice that:

“Every Union citizen has the right to reside in the territory of a host Member State for a period of up to three months without any conditions or formalities other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport” and

“The EU national and family members can move to another EU Member State after three months if they wish and repeat the above process and continue to do so”.

A link to the full response is provided at the end of this document.

However, Paul who is an EU citizen married to an Australia was told by the same organisation that:

“This means that your spouse would be entitled to travel to an EU country and stay up to 90 days. The 90-day limit on short stays applies to stays in the Schengen area as a whole, not to individual countries. The limit is not applied so that a visitor can spend 90 days in each country. Instead, the limit is applied so that a visitor can only spend 90 days in the Schengen area as a whole (Articles 3 and 6 of Regulation 2016/399 apply).”

Same question, totally different answer?  How can this be?

People are making massive decisions about their holidays of a lifetime and you can’t get a straight answer!  Fortunately, I was able to provide Paul with my research and documents and as a result, he and his wife travelled freely into, around, out of, and back into Schengen for many months in 2017 and 2018 with no problems.

Once I was very sure of my findings, I started asking direct and focused questions of the various embassy officials.  I was able to reference the Directives and Legislation and ask for their confirmation that I would have no problems crossing their Schengen borders.  It seemed that most just found my questions too hard, and either fobbed me off or ignored me.  I eventually had a satisfactory response from the German consulate in Berlin:

“You as an EU citizen can stay in Germany for up to 3 months without any further requirements. No matter in how many EU countries you have stayed prior to your arrival, you and your wife can stay in Germany for three months.”

The Hungarian official, after sending the question to the FREMO expert committee on Free Movement, in Brussels advised me unofficially that:

“I have received the official confirmation from Brussels that you and your wife can stay up to 3 months in each country without any administrative restrictions.”

It is always a little scary approaching a border crossing and not being sure what will happen.  Be prepared for the worse and 99% of the time you will just sail through without being questioned.

The bottom line is that as long as you clearly understand your rights, you are in a strong position.

I Have a British Passport – What about Brexit?

Great question and I wish I had an answer for that one, however at the time of writing that is up in the air.

There are two schools of thought about this.

One is that the rest of Europe is going to have to be firm on Britain and make their exit painful to discourage other countries from leaving.  Part of this could be to remove all freedom of movement for British citizens so they will also be subject to the Schengen restrictions.

The other position is that the cost to some economies of restricting British travel would be too high so travel for tourism must remain unrestricted.  Many parts of Spain for example are heavily dependant on British snow birds or retirees propping up the economy, particularly in winter.

The final solution may be somewhere in between what British citizens enjoy now and what the rest of the world have to comply with.

Who knows what the final result will be and it is a time of great uncertainty for British passport holders wanting to spend large chunks of time abroad.

My advice, get the hell over here before it all turns to custard.

There may be some grace period before restrictions kick in but who knows what is really going to happen and when.

Document Links

Here are the links to the most important documents referenced plus some others I haven’t mentioned but gives you some more background.  I have highlighted parts of the relevant sections in some documents.

Directive 2004/38/EC

Schengen Handbook

Schengen Border Code – Regulation 399-2016

New Zealand Bilateral Agreements with:

  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Italy
  • Austria
  • Netherlands
  • Hungary
  • Norway
  • Spain
  • Belgium
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland

Freedom to move and live in Europe – A guide to your rights as an EU citizen

The RIght of Union Citizens and their family members to move and reside freely within the Union

Response from Your Europe Advice questions re Schengen

My Worst Fear Realised

My Worst Fear Realised

by Ruth Murdoch | 28 February 2018 

Today I experienced the worst most fearful situation of my entire life. Whilst you may laugh at this, as may I in the future, it was by far the most terrifying experience I have ever had, bar none.

As a child growing up I had a safe and secure life. My parent always looked out for my siblings and me, and I was somewhat of a daredevil, a fearless child that would try everything thrown at me. I remember as a child being dared by an older brother to jump into a river stream several meters below the riverbank. I had no idea what lay beneath, and being the youngest of four I didn’t want to look scared and wanted to appear ‘brave’ to my elder siblings. So, of course, I jumped into the unknown. It all worked out okay and I’m here to tell the story.

Safety for me has never been a factor in my life. I rode a 600cc sports motorbike all around New Zealand, then rode around Europe at the age of 30 on another large motorbike. I owned a yacht and sailed singled handed, and even raced the 30 foot yacht singled handed on an overnight yacht race. I anchored my boat, launched the dinghy and rowed ashore, slept on the boat alone, and got sailing again the next morning all single-handed. Fear was never a factor in my life.

Until recently…

Isn’t it the small things in life that define us? It’s the silly things that we don’t expect will trip us up.

I have always had this stupid fear, one I would not tell anyone about, but was a situation while traveling, I would face more and more often. I love my husband dearly, but I didn’t even share this fear I had with him. Why, I don’t know. He wouldn’t laugh at me, he would be understanding and caring and would be there for me if and when I needed him. But nevertheless, he didn’t know so he didn’t know how to help me or that I even may need his help one day.

Until today…

Today, and this is still so fresh that I am feeling anxious about writing this, I had my worse nightmare realised.

I am writing this to highlight the reality of life, and to assure others who have a similar fear. These things are real, so if you can find yourself laughing, please think again and put yourself in my position, or if not yours, then that of a loved one.

It was worse than I ever imagined.

No-one came to my aid, no-one knew where I was, and no-one called out any words of reassurance. I was all alone.

We are parked at the marina of Agios Nikolas in Crete, Greece and were heading out for a walk. On our way out we decided to use the marina toilets to ‘drop the kids off’, i.e. do number twos, as can be an issue to dispose of our ‘black water’ waste and the marina offered toilets for our use.

Not only do they offer toilets here, but the set-up has individual rooms housing a toilet, shower, dressing room and sink basins for handwashing. Each area has a door that you go into and lock behind, then you are free to shower or go to the toilet, which has a separate lockable door.

I didn’t lock the toilet door as the first door was already locked and I felt safe. After finishing my business I went to exit the toilet and accidently turned the lock underneath the handle. Instead of letting me out, it actually locked solid and would not budge.

I tried to turn the lock back the other way, but in true Greek tradition the maintenance on such buildings is appalling and it wouldn’t budge. I was locked in the toilet! This was my phobia, the worst fear I hadn’t shared with anyone throughout my life.

I tried and tried to unlock the lock. It was solid, locked tight and nothing I could do would make any difference.

I looked up to see if there was a window to escape through. There wasn’t.

I looked up to see if there was a gap above the door that I could climb over. There wasn’t.

I looked down to see if there was a gap underneath the door that I could squeeze under. There wasn’t.

I was stuck.

The door lock wouldn’t budge.

I tried to remain calm and think about which way I had accidently locked myself in. So I tried to turn the lock the opposite way. Nothing happened.

Then thinking I had it the wrong way around, I tried turning the lock the opposite way. Nothing happened.

The knob for the lock was small and one I could only just get my thumbs around.

By now I was starting to sweat a bit, so I used my t-shirt and tried to turn the lock, but the shirt kept slipping and I was still getting nowhere.

I knew that I was trapped. Not only could I not unlock this door, I also realised that the door was metal. I kicked the door as hard as I could with my foot, while bracing myself against the wall, trying to loosen the lock. That would have worked because of the adrenaline now starting to run through my body, if it was a wooden door frame. That wasn’t to be.

Not only was this door made of steel, so was the outer door. Just my luck…

I yelled “help”, “help”, “help”! Not a sound. I knew there were people around and outside but no-one took any notice. I kept trying to unlock the lock, by this time my thumbs were turning red, were swollen and starting to become numb.

I got the feeling that I was on my own, and no-one would be able to get me out of here except me. To that end I keep trying the lock. The panic that was growing inside of me and the adrenaline swirling around inside of me kept my senses high, but I did my best to think things through logically and to panic slowly (a sailing term). It hardly worked. I was panicking and I was scared.

I could see the future, Alan would eventually come looking for me, as he knew I was in the toilet (it was his suggestion after all), then he would calm me down and tell me he was going for help. In Greece, that would take a long time. What could anyone do? First they had to fight their way through the first metal door, whilst the lock on that door was somewhat flimsier that the toilet door, it would still be likely to take some time, an hour or two.

Next would be the harder door. Being steel, I had visions of a gas torch being used to get a hole in the door. The toilet itself was small, hardly any room to swing a cat (oh how I wish there was a cat in there with me for comfort).

By this stage I am still screaming out “help, help me, help”. I could hear the tonality of my own voice and could hear the desperation as though I was outside listening in. No-one came to help. I could hear people outside, surely someone would understand English, surely someone would understand a panicked cry of help through tonality if not language.

No, it wasn’t to be.

All the while I continued with the lock. I turned it left, and I turned it right. It wasn’t budging. I continued to kick the door but it was solid. I continued to scream, but no-one answered my calls for help.

What was I do to?

Where was Alan? Had he gone back to the motorhome sitting there working on some thing or the other? Did he realise I was a long time in the toilet? Did he think this was usual, or perhaps he thought I had a big job on?

He was on the outside, and free, and able to walk around in something resembling more than one step in front or behind him. Meanwhile I was trapped. I was like a caged lion except a caged lion was lucky because someone knew he was there. No-one knew where I was.

I continue to call out, “help, help me, please help me ”. I continued to try what I saw on TV and kick the door in (that’s probably why I have a sore back now). No-one, not one person called back. It was only later that we realised the doors were so solid that noise was difficult to penetrate through.

By now my thumbs and forefinger were red, swollen, and aching but I had to keep trying. The panic and fear kept me going and kept me trying. Time was ticking on, I would have been in here for about 20 minutes by now. The longest 20 minutes of my life.

Hang on, the lock was beginning to move. Was this it, was it unlocking finally? Oh yes, the lock finally gave up and decided I was the victor. I was free, I could leave now on my own accord, I was no longer a trapped prisoner of this toilet. I would be able to make my way outside of the second door.

I opened the outer door and there stood a young man. His face was blank, confused, and as he looked at me, with tears streaming down my face, he asked in perfect English with a German accent “are you okay”.

My heart beating so hard I thought it was going to leap out of my chest, I stood looking at him and with my hand on my heart I cried “I was trapped”. He didn’t know what to do or say and stood aside while I made a hasty exit from the building.

I stopped half way out to catch my breath, and wash my hands. My heart was pounding so hard I could hardly hear anything else. People were looking at me wondering what was going on.

I walked outside to see Alan making his way back to the toilet block. I raced into his arms and broke down sobbing, like I’ve never sobbed before. Amongst my tears and breathlessness I managed to tell him of my ordeal. He held me tight and assured me he thought I must be talking with someone to have been so long.

We walked back to Betsy, our motorhome, and panic set in. Walking in I felt like I was entering a trap again. A panic attack engulfed me (by surprise) and it took all my power to keep it under wraps. I knew Betsy was safe, but being inside an enclosed space once again so soon after my ordeal was terrifying.

Alan to his credit and knowing how incredibly upset I was, he kindly suggested that we ‘break state’ a coaching term we learnt many years ago, and he put on the TV to watch a program.

It worked.

All day I have had small panic attacks thinking back to what happened.

It was a rare occasion that I didn’t take my mobile phone with me into the toilet, but this was one of those times. Never again will I be without my phone and I doubt I will ever lock a public toilet door again.

I don’t think Alan will ever leave my public toilet door until I am out safely.

I was always taught as a youngster, that if you fall off a horse, you should get right back on – a Kiwi tradition. In true fashion later in the afternoon, after a few cuppa teas, I needed to use the toilet again. I asked Alan to go back with me to face my fear. This time we went back to the same toilet with a can of WD40 – a lubricant to ensure the lock would free itself up. Alan experienced the stiffness of the lock himself (after three squirts of WD40 from me) and finally got the lock working freely. I would hate to think a child or elderly person got themselves locked in this toilet as I did. I still think of myself as young, and I know I am strong (thanks to the gym and years of sailing), so if I struggled others would more so.

My lesson is that I should share my fears with my lovely husband so he doesn’t wander too far and to panic slowly in these circumstances. Then think about what the worst outcome would be. No I wouldn’t die, at least if I could calm myself down, think logically, and realise I was in no immediate danger. Then continue to yell out, continue to try the lock, and continue to stay positive and know that Alan would come and look for me, eventually.

The Many Doors of Europe

The Many Doors of Europe

There are so many doors on our travels that have taken our interest, so here you will find a gallery of the European doors.  I hope you enjoy these as much as we have enjoyed taking the photos.