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A Year of Wild Living

A Year of Wild Living

One of the many sites we wild camped in overlooking the stunning Piazza Armerina, Sicily

Ruth Murdoch | June 2018 | Countries, Summary Blogs

If the title has piqued your interest and you are expecting to read about a year of drunkenness and debauchery, then you will be sorely disappointed.  This is a family blog after all, one that our mothers are likely to read.

Wild camping, otherwise known as free camping, has been our main form of bunking down overnight, in fact for seventy five per cent of the time, hence the title.

Happy Birthday to our motorhome Betsy.

One short year ago from today (29th June 2017) we picked up our beloved, much anticipated Betsy. Eight months in the planning from conception to birth, every part of Betsy’s entrance into our world was meticulously planned and thought out. Like expectant parents, we had Betsy’s first year or two of her life roughly sorted. We knew she was destined for wild camping. We knew she would be our home away from home, and that we would have many awesome adventures together.  If you would like to know how we set Betsy up, click here.

And she didn’t disappoint.

Italian built, French registered, and driven by two Kiwis who had been living in Australia for the best part of the previous decade, Betsy already had an international feel about her.

She continued in this vein.

Twelve months have seen Betsy visit sixteen countries including Italy, Vatican City, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Greece, Turkey, San Marino, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and travel over seventeen and a half thousand kilometres.

For those of you interested in such details, here are Betsy’s stats for the last twelve months:
Total Cost for Diesel € 2,215.35
Average Cost per Litre €1.34
Average cost per km € 0.1265
Average Miles Per Gallon29.26
Total Kilometres traveled 17,511
Average Litres/100kms
9.65
Total Litres consumed
1,690.31

Our Stopping Places

We stopped overnight in 170 individual locations over twelve months.  This shows we moved every second day on average, although we stayed in one stop for a month in Istanbul alone.

Out of 170 stopping places, 136 (275 nights or 75%) were free. These were a mixture of car parks, beaches, and other public or more remote locations which we call ‘wild camping’.

We paid to park in 18 designated camper parking area (51 nights or 14%).  Most of these were in Istanbul where we found an excellent base for exploring that wonderful city.

And we camped in 16 campgrounds for a total of 31 nights (11% of all nights). The only times we stay in camping grounds is when we had family staying with us, we were meeting up with friends who are there, or where it’s the law, e.g. Croatia doesn’t allow wild camping.

Betsy’s two large solar panels allow us to wild camp easily because we very rarely need external electric power.  We also carry an extra toilet cassette just in case we are caught short, although so far we haven’t needed it.  We can go for three-four days with our 100 litres of fresh water and before we need to discharge our black water (toilet).  Not bad for each of us showering daily.

We usually turn up at a location in the late afternoon, dismount our bikes and ride into town, then ride again into town the next day if there’s plenty to see.

Below is an interactive map of our stopping places for the year.  If you click on the different stopping points you will, usually, see Betsy parked here and the details for other motorhome users, e.g. water, power, dumping points, costs for the night (where applicable), etc.  The blue markers indicate our stopping places for 2017, and the red markers show where we stopped in 2018.

Top City

People ask us ‘what is your favourite country’. I cannot honestly answer this, however, I would have to say my favourite city is Istanbul hands down. The vibrancy, energy, people, attractions, food, ease of cycling around and the cheap prices are just a few of the reasons why Istanbul gets my vote.  Below you can see the different places we visited while there.  The photos below are of the Blue Mosque and the Basilica Cistern, (underground water storage built by the Romans).  To open the list of places we visited, click on the window icon with an arrow in it, on the top left in the grey bar.  Then click on a name to see where it’s located (make sure you zoom into the map first).

Our Favourite Places

That being said, here are just a few of our other favourite places we have visited over the past twelve months.

1. Meteora, Greece: This is as close as you can get to God from Earth. Monasteries built literally on top of rocks standing hundreds of metres in the air, this is one place not to be missed if visiting Greece.  Visit our blog here for more information and pictures of this beautiful and majestic place.
2. Acrocorinth, Peloponnese, Greece: – located about a hundred kilometres from Athens, this intriguing and diverse ancient Acropolis provides spectacular 360 degree views as a suitable reward after one climbs its gentle (and not so gentle) slopes. Whilst I’m not into hiking I hardly noticed the climb or distance due to being wowed with the view of the surrounding mountains and overlooking the ancient and new towns of Corinth. If you have ever read about the Corinthians in the Bible, this is where they hail from.
3. Olympia, Peloponnese, Greece: As the name would suggest, and you may have already guessed, Olympia is the original home of the Olympic Games, founded way back in the 8th century B.C.

Walking through the ruins it’s not difficult to imagine the buzz and excitement of the athletes training around the now silent and extensive ruins. A stadium and temple built here were dedicated to the gods Hera and Zeus. I managed to stand in the place where the Olympic torch is still lit today.

4. Delphi, Greece: This town is situated on Mount Parnassus in the south of mainland Greece. It’s the site of the 4th century B.C. Temple of Apollo, once home to a legendary Oracle. You may have heard about “The Oracle of Delphi”. Well this is the place where the Oracle hung out, so look no further. The archaeological site is literally sitting on the side of a mountain and contains the remains of the sanctuaries of Apollo and Athena Pronaia, as well as an ancient stadium and theatre and dozens of other buildings and structures.  We managed to park off the road nearby, backed up close to the edge of a steep cavernous valley (a bit too close for my liking and  I was nervous all night we might slip and wake at the bottom) and high mountains in front.

 

If you have Greece in your sights for a visit, then you might want to check out our blog Greece:  The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (And the Costs).

5. Monemvasia, Laconia, Greece: This town blew me away more than any other. Why? Because it wasn’t at all what I was expecting. Having visited castle ruin after castle ruin, I just thought this would be the same again. Boy was I wrong. Monemvasia is ancient, however, it wasn’t in ruins, it is still being lived in, just like it was when founded in 583 (although with more modern people wearing more modern clothes). The town, built on top of a rock on a small island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, is linked to the mainland by a short causeway just 200 metres long. I was so impressed with Monemvasia that we had to visit twice in two days so I could soak up all she had to offer. Please read my blog for further amazing facts and details of this little gem in Greece. This one is totally unmissable.

6. Erice, Sicily, Italy. The castles in Erice have been designed and built exactly how I would imagine kids would draw a castle nowadays. Erice (pronounced Ee-reach-ee), which sits at 750 metres on top of Mt Erice, is a medieval hilltop town located near Trapani, with superb views over the coast. A cable car joins the upper and lower town and although we didn’t use this because we rode our electric bikes, the cable car had just recently become operational again after a forest fire in 2005.

7. Monreale, Sicily. This stunning town sits overlooking the city of Palermo and I kicked myself after Carrie, my sister in law left us, that we didn’t take her up here. Having travelled around and visited cathedral after church after basilica soaking up the many styles throughout the previous eight months, nothing could have prepared me for the jaw-dropping beauty, craftsmanship, and sheer magnificence of the Monreale Cathedral. Instead of the typical painted frescos, this cathedral’s pictures were made using the painstaking and time-consuming art of mosaics.  We were told that each mosaic piece was hand placed on just the right angle for the light to reflect off the golden piece, hence giving the illusion of glistening, expensive and decadent gold.  Each of the  216 mosaic frescos illustrated a different story, which could be a Biblical parable or story or an event or person from the church history.   This remains today as my most favourite of churches, surpassing the impressive Milan Cathedral, the Blue Mosque in Turkey, and of course the very famous Sistine Chapel in Rome.
8. San Marino: I knew very little about this impressive place, but soon discovered that San Marino is the fifth smallest country of the world’s 196 independent countries while enjoying one of the planet’s highest GDPs per capita. Not only is it cute, but San Marino, which boasts just 61 square kilometres of landmass, has unsurpassed views, the greatest we have ever seen in our lifetime. Everywhere we looked the word ‘wow’ just slipped out of our mouths. The locals also know how to cook up a pretty good traditional Italian style lunch accompanied by a warm fire and a cold Chardonnay.
9. Milan, Italy. When I see the word Milan (Milano in Italian) the words ‘fashion capital’ come to mind ( ‘Paris, London, New York, Milan, Hong Kong’). So off I went looking for something to tempt me, but alas my purse stayed firmly shut, despite walking and biking for miles in search of something special to buy.

What I did like about Milan was the variety of architecture throughout this city. Some very old, some gothic, some ultra modern. The Gothic Duomo Cathedral of Milan, having taken some 600 years to build justifiably takes pride of place in the centre of Milan, check out the photos to see what I mean.  But first, click on the video below to see the Cathedral.

Now it’s time to share our…

Outstanding Experiences

1. Mother Nature showing off her power in Pylos. Read our blog about our exciting night where the waves tried to claim our Betsy for themselves.
2. Cooking classes in Istanbul, Turkey and Palermo, Sicily – follow our recipes here and see the pictures below.  For both these cooking classes we were fortunate enough to be the only participants and for Palermo we were joined by Carrie (on the right-hand side wearing red), Alan’s sister who flew in from London to be with us for a few days.  The Italian cooking class was a birthday gift to us from Carrie and Geoff (Alan’s brother in the USA).  A very memorable experience.
3. Experiencing a two Michelin star restaurant in Sicily – read our blog and then go out and book your own two Michelin star experience. You won’t be disappointed.
4. Standing on a live volcano at Mt Etna – just glad she didn’t erupt. Even the scoria under foot was warm.
5. The south-eastern corner of Sicily is a USECO registered area of unique baroque architecture.  The principal towns including Noto, Caltagirone, Siracusa, Ragusa and Catania were all rebuilt in the baroque style after the devastating earthquake of 1693.
6. Crossing the Italian Alps into France – over the top instead of through the tunnel and then we came to an unexpected and grinding halt – see why below. This tested Alan’s skills of reversing uphill and around bends (thankfully no-one came down the road).  The location we ended up parking for the night afforded us beautiful views (when the cloud lifted).
7. Le Quesnay in France – for it’s continued tribute to Kiwi soldiers from WWI. Look at the photos and if you are from New Zealand then please feel proud of what your forefathers did to protect the people and infrastructure of this quaint French village.  Here’s the statement which sits on a plaque in the New Zealand memorial garden.

On 4th November 1918 the New Zealand Division attacked and bypassed the fortified town of Le Quesnoy, consolidating positions beyond it and gaining around 10 kilometres.  After the success of their advance, they determinedly turned their attention to the town itself, which had been invaded by the Germans in 1914 and held ever since. 

The 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade penetrated the town’s outer ramparts.  However, when a section of the 4th Battalion reached these inner walls they found that the walls were too high for their ladder.  They positioned the ladder on a small ledge atop a sluice gate and scaled the wall one by one.  After exchanging shots with several German defenders, they went in further.  When the rest of the Germans inside learned that the walls had been breached, they promptly laid down their weapons and surrendered. 

The relief of the French inhabitants was immense.  Not only had their town been liberated, but it had been done with relatively little impact on the local population.  The armistice was signed a week later, and to this day, Le Quesnoy people remember and honour the New Zealanders who rescued their town. 

8. Louis Vuitton Foundation – a hidden gem of Paris and an un-miss-able experience. If you are visiting you must check this out.
By now you will probably be thinking this is a long blog. So in the interests of not over-boring you I’m just going to bullet point a few other highlights.

(a) Hiring a yacht in Volos, Greece and sailing with our good friends Pip and Ross (Kiwis living in London)
(b) Paris – who can go to Paris and not mention something wonderful about this city. We didn’t spend a long time here but managed to see the Eifel Tower (Alan says my facial expression was priceless when I first saw it), the Louvre (to see the Mona Lisa), and the beautiful gardens and buildings.
(c) Ghent in Belgium is worth a mention. We stopped here to watch the second All Blacks test against French in an Irish Bar (yes, you can find one of these in every city).  Ghent was a surprisingly vibrant city and a great alternative to the usual tourist destination of Burges. (We will probably go here another time).
(d) I must mention the churches. One would think we would get sick of going into so many churches but every church is so very different. I will endeavour to post some photos (and I have lots of them) in another post so stay tuned to see these.

That’s where I’m going to stop on this subject.  Needless to say, we have seen and experienced so much in just one short year.  We are looking forward to what this next twelve months will bring us on our travels.

Hiccups or unsettling experiences

• Putting a hole in Betsy’s head. When hearing a crunch from a low hanging tree branch, it’s best to take a good look as there could be more damage than you think! Then when it rains there could be a water leak inside! Dhu!
• My Worst Fear Realised (you will need to click here to see what it was, as that’s all I am saying.)
• Ruth turning on her bike in front of a Tram in Amsterdam – don’t try this at home kids. Thankfully no damage done to Tram, Bike, or Person ☺
• Not knowing to turn the gas off when traveling on Ferries (why wasn’t this obvious and why were we not told by authorities that this is a requirement?).  All sorted now.
• Scary roads in Italy – watch the video below
• Scary roads in Greece thanks to our GPS, Emily, who forgot how big we were and how narrow the roads could morph into.

Additions to Betsy

• Air suspension fitted in Greece to help smooth out the potholes around Greece and in Italy
Omnia oven – negated the need for an oven to be installed, saving us over €800
• USB/powerpoint in the living area has made the world of difference.
• Household Dyson Vacuum cleaner (don’t look at the price Alan, it will be worth it). This proved accurate when our stovetop glass exploded leaving splinters of glass splattered all through the kitchen, floor, sink, bench, and of course stove top. Grrr!
• Portable washing machine – the convenience of having this on tap has been priceless.  Typically the cost of laundry is about €16-20 per time and it is often a hassle finding a laundromat that we can get to easily.  It’s an equation between time and money. When traveling for an extended period of time we have time, however, we don’t want the money to run out just yet and don’t want to spend half a day hunting for a laundromat.  Therefore being able to do our laundry in our own washing machine has been a godsend.  We just need a water tap handy, a sunny day to power the solar panels and a place to hang out the washing line.

Best Buy Ever!

If you’ve read any of our other blogs it is possibly obvious, especially when we were in Turkey. Have you guessed it yet? Our best ever buy has been our electric bikes, by far. These allow us to park up where Betsy can’t fit, then cycle in to see the sights or top up on groceries.  We are particularly grateful for these in Paris, Belgium and Holland where the cycling infrastructure is fantastic.

The Costs

Before starting our adventures, we read a few blogs about the costs of living in a motorhome. We wanted to get an idea of what we should expect to spend.

However, the reality is that everyone is different and people will adjust their spending to suit their available money, the type of travel they are doing and what is most important to them.  Whether you are just on a holiday or full-timing in a moho, also makes a difference.

You can live the life of Riley, drive thousands of kilometres, stay in flash camping grounds, eat out every day and visit every attraction known to man and you will spend a small fortune.  At the other end of the spectrum, you can hole up in a free parking area for months on end and live on pasta and water and spend bugger all.

We sit somewhere in between, where we choose to spend our money on what is most important to us.  We avoid camping grounds, toll roads, eating out and anything that feels overpriced. We spend gladly on quality experiences, diesel to get to cool places, quality groceries and things that make our lives easier and more enjoyable.

We track ALL of our spending on an App called ‘Moneywise’ and review it regularly together.  Luckily Alan is still working part-time while we travel which helps to keep us on the road longer.

When reading this you must remember that we live full time in our Betsy; we don’t have rent or mortgage payments to pay, or another vehicle at home, or any other typical costs of living, e.g. electricity, rates, water, etc.  It also means that all our costs are lumped in here somewhere.

I’ve averaged the weekly costs into Euros (€’s) as follows. These are sorted by most to least expensive:

  Per Week
Groceries97.38
Diesel44.83
Eating out40.77
Repairs & Maintenance29.3
Attractions29.04
Household26.06
Transport, ferries, parking18.82
Pharmacy and Medical14.71
Telephones/internet14.28
Camping Grounds13.78
Clothing, shoes13.34
Camper Parking11.25
Haircuts9.85
Alcohol9.26
Tolls6.99
Gas5.93
Books, tools, insurance3.73
Gifts3.56
Laundry2.62
Net Total€395.49
Additional to these costs are our annual healthcare insurance back in Australia (where we had been living prior to coming to Europe), vehicle insurance in France and the initial setup costs for Betsy.

Phew, that was a lot.  If you want any further information, please feel free to contact us via email at ruth@trael-cook-eat.com or alan@travel-cook-eat.com.  We are happy to share our experiences with you.

Newbie Mistakes You Can Laugh About

Newbie Mistakes You Can Laugh About

Click the link below to read about our highlights and lowlights from our first six months, including best tips from fellow travellers, how we’ve kept busy, unsettling experiences, run-ins with authorities, best buys for our motorhome (before and after purchases), newbie mistakes to laugh about (now), the biggest whoops, and the worst roads we’d encountered.

To save myself from reinventing the wheel, I have loaded up my first newsletter, rather than re-formatting it into the usual blog style.

This was written in the days before I learned how to set up a website or write a blog.  It’s easy to read bullet points and a few pictures thrown in for good measure.  Please forgive the format, but I’m sure you’ll understand.

http://travel-cook-eat.com/wp-content/uploads/Newbie-Mistakes-to-Laugh-About.pdf