Head straight for Amsterdam, that was the plan but what we have realised already is that it’s the diversions, detours and spontaneous stops which can be the most fun and this one was certainly no exception. Our Dutch friends invited us for lunch at their home which took us to Helmond, a town close to Eindhoven not on our original route but we are so glad we made the detour.
Caroline and Marco, former neighbours from Singapore had prepared a fabulous lunch for us and lunch led to dinner. With the snow settling and a perfect canal side campsite in Oirschot we decided to stay for a couple more days.
Oirschot is a picture perfect town, it’s small stores look like a Disney set. A super friendly place with a beautiful church in the centre and shops around the square.
Waking up to a blanket of snow was a first, the boys were so excited and so was Lester.
We decided to have a relaxing day and chill-out after the past couple of weeks, the snow was a good excuse to stay put.
Sunday afternoon we went to a local brewery recommended by the campsite owner as they were hosting a German Festival. The music was played by a band from the town.
The snow has melted and we are ready to move on, next stop Rotterdam.
Bruges, the capital city of West Flanders turned out to be a whole lot more than chocolate, beer, waffles and frites even though I am sure you could survive on those four staples for a long time. The cobbled town centre with its morning market selling fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly cooked meats and spit roasted chickens, cheeses and hot waffles did not disappoint. Trip Advisor will give you the run down on churches and historical buildings to visit but what we were most taken with was the people, friendly, engaging, warm and cheerful…we were all struggling with the arctic snap and yet all we felt was warmth.
I have fallen in love with the shops too, each one is quite understated and classy. The signage doesn’t really give any clues to what is behind the door – the bakery looked like a high end law firm but if you look carefully through the windows you’ll see tastefully presented breads and cakes…it’s Disney like.
We also struck gold with the ongoing LPG saga in a small local garage where the owner (who spoke English as well as us) had all the necessary attachments and knew how to fully fuel us up – and the gas was literally half the price of France – again, another mystery about a so called United Europe.
We’d overdosed a bit on World War 2 cemeteries in France so for a change decided to visit all the World War 1 memorials, cemeteries and trenches we could find in Belgium ! Joking apart, it’s hard to explain how moving and deeply tragic it is…we’ve all studied this stuff in school but nothing stops you in your tracks quite like 12,000 graves of young men at Tyne Cot cemetery and the amazing city gates of Ypres. It’s hard to describe the Menin Gate, it is truly a magnificent memorial, remembering those lost in WW1 without a known grave.
To round off the historical tour for the day, we drove the 200 km round trip to the site of the Battle of Waterloo where the Duke of Wellington kicked Napoleons backside. We were proud to be British.
So having fallen in love with Belgium and it’s lovely people it was quite entertaining watching Jon being pulled over and breathalysed by the Belgium Highway police this morning in the motorhome. After a document check the police told us that whilst a car can tow a caravan in Belgium it’s apparently not legal for a motorhome to tow a car (!) We were then asked to remove Mini and get on our way. Which we did and continued to the Dutch border.
Coming back to Devon, the place I grew up was an eye opener. I had always envisaged returning to the beautiful tranquillity of Devon, the quiet and laidback lifestyle. The Devon-way. I surprised myself that it wasn’t all I had imagined it to be and that I must have changed somehow. Devon was of course glorious as ever, the beaches a real pleasure, the towns quintessentialy British and the weather was mild. Although there was a nagging in the back of my mind that this wasn’t all I had wanted it to be, we actually felt a little bit cut off , 14 years living in capital cities does this to you. The instant gratification of walking out of your house and grabbing a Starbucks, department stores on your doorstep and bars and restaurants minutes away, Devon now felt a bit remote. It has given us food for thought about where our long term home will be.
Anyway I digress, we had returned and were in the most part enjoying Devon life as a retired couple (boys at school) enjoying lesisurly walks with the dog and coffees whilst undertaking the mammoth task of renovating the RV.
It doesn’t sound like a massive task but trust me it was huge and even now we look at what we have achieved and still find things we would like to improve. The title sums up our feelings throughout the renovation process, when you are drowning you just have to keep swimming. That’s what 7 coats of paint on each cupboard door does to you. So after weeks of Jon getting up every morning at 6.30 and going to the RV to demolish, paint, build and beautify we got to a point of seeing this ‘thing’ as a reality. I have to say Jon is the real driving force behind everything we do, I am a dreamer and a proscrastanator, Jon is a doer. Without him none of this would have happened, he sees a problem or a challenge and turns it into a real thing, making it better as he goes and enlisting people along the way to have the same belief and passion he has. I am in awe of his passion and enthusiasm for a project. I look at a task and can’t even start because I see so many obstacles, Jon walks in and just says “lets go and don’t stop until the job is done”.
When I did come and help, it was cold and quite depressing without electricity I would whinge and whine about not having the right paintbrush, being hungry, not having enough paint, the paint not sticking and so on and so on. Jon just soldiered on, never complaining or giving up. That’s just one of the reasons I love him.
I really wanted to give a bit of background to what we are doing right now and I suppose this question really defines the moment that it became a thing.
Those who have met Jon will know he is a general knowledge guru, he knows a lot of stuff about a lot of things, a good friend once said “Mr S you know a lot of shit”, she was not wrong. So Mr. S enjoys learning knew facts and figuring out the answers to questions I don’t even think about. So imagine about 3 and a half years ago, sitting in our gorgeous shophouse in Singapore eating dinner with the boys and Jon says “boys could you drive from Singapore all the way to England?”
The discussion ensued and we figured out a route and possible problems and then discussed what vehicle you could use. Of course at the time it was just a discussion.
In the summer of 2015 we took a trip to America, at this point we already knew Jon wanted to retire at or before 50. We had booked an RV for 2 weeks to tour around Florida. We had enjoyed an earlier trip to the States in 2011 when we spent a month in an RV traveling from the East coast to the West coast. The trip was fantastic and we all really enjoyed the freedom traveling in an RV gave us, everyday we would rock up in a new town and experience things that we wouldn’t have found in a guide book.
Over dinner during this trip Jon brought up the subject of his impending retirement again, only this time it felt very real, the boys and I put up some resistance to returning to the UK, I say returning as for me it is where I was born but for the boys Asia is very much their birthplace and home. Joe, our eldest boy put across his argument for staying in Singapore one more year. It was August and Jon had already decided he would retire in September and for us all to return to the UK for Christmas 2015. After many more discussions and the fact that we all needed to get our heads around ‘retirement’ Jon agreed to wait one more year. It was on this trip that we decided we would go back to the UK and buy an RV and head out to Europe for one year, going to as many of the 50 (ish) countries as possible. Joe was delighted and I felt like I had a year to enjoy life in Singapore.