{Intermission}

So, we have survived the first month of Europe. Togetherness; living in the van, cooking in a van, sleeping in a van, playing in the van, arguing in a van, fighting in a van, having a tantrum in a van but most of all, exploring in a van.

After 10 wonderful days with Marcus and Di on their little farm, I was itching to keep driving. The kids definitely prefer staying put. At the farm they spent their days wandering, playing games, lazing around and reading books or heading to the river for a paddle…while Piers worked on various projects and I spent the week weeding an overgrown garden. We really enjoyed getting to know our hosts and it was great to be able to explore an area more. One thing we missed though is meeting the locals…it seems that a lot of these small villages are loosing its local population, with the Dutch and English contingent buying up and renovating the rustic farmhouses. There were several hamlets around us that were predominantly English…setting up little Salon de the (say ‘taayy’, with an english accent) and serving scones and jam or running B&B’s…I wonder what is going to happen with all these expats with Brexit…but in the meantime, they are reviving lots of derelict farm houses that otherwise would fall apart.

We left the farm in the direction of charming Brantome, stopping at the village of Oradour sur Glane. On the 10th June 1944 German troops entered the town and massacred its entire population of over 600 inhabitants, before destroying the village. In memory, the village has been left untouched as a war memorial, with a new village built after the war alongside it. What a sobering sight, standing amidst burned out houses, cars and church. It was eerie, imagining the horror, fear and devastation that this village has experienced and I could not help but have a sense of the spirits still lingering in the town. I still cannot understand what drives these acts of unspeakable cruelty, barbaric acts we human being are capable of and how after 2 world wars we don’t seem to have learned. Standing in this burned out village, I could have been Syria. It was sobering and saddening and I felt a little bit hopeless, thinking how little we have learned from these wars. Walking through an entire village, with schools, shops, church and cafes was a way for the kids to really experience the magnitude. It wasn’t a theoretical history lesson, but almost like being taken back in time.

After Oradour we continued to Brantome a stunning town in the Dordogne. Meandering river, medieval streets and houses built into caves…you know, the usual…

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From there we went to the coast for some swimming and cycling. We spent a day cycling in Bordeaux, which was amazing. Bordeaux is like Paris, but smaller, less hectic and a bit more grungy. Would have loved to spend a few more days there, but alas, this time we were on a schedule to start our housesit in Switzerland. And the kids do city in small doses only….But that is ok, as we have fallen in love with France and Piers is already planning his retirement here….

And speaking of retirement…in the Dordogne we stumbled upon our dream village. Driving  through a sleepy little down the kids announced that they had enough driving for the day and a quick look in my trusty little Camperstop book revealed  an idyllic little spot to park our van, just at the edge of town. After setting up with hopped on our bikes for a quick scout, mainly to locate a public toilet (we are trying to use public toilets whenever we can….its Piers’ job to empty the potty…). We rode around this tiny village at sunset, where golden light reflected back form ancient buildings, painted shutters and  cobbled alleyways. All this surrounded by lush greenery, forest and a creek…and so now we are dreaming of a little rundown cottage to renovate (!!!), spending summers in France and Winters in Australia….hey, one can dream, right?

 

Emilia celebrated her 13th Birthday in this gorgeous part of the world, in a tiny van, but suitably celebrated with croissants and crepes…So, which means we are now traveling with a teenager…we’ll keep you updated on how that is going as she settles into her new status…

On we drove, through picturesque towns like Bergerac and Limeuil in the Dordogne, then through the Auvergne region and finally, we stopped in lovely Annency, before heading back into Switzerland.

We have only just touched the tip of what is the gorgeousness of France and we will be back again a couple of times during our trip. For now, we are moored in Switzerland, where our dear friends have left us their house in central Switzerland, while they are on holidays. We have scrubbed clean the van and for now enjoy the comforts of hot showers, luxurious kitchen, washing machine and a car. The kids absolutely love it here! They get to see their Nonna, plenty of Playmobil and comics to keep them busy for a while and not interested in sightseeing, taking the majestic beauty around them for granted. While here, we have to get Piers visa sorted and hike up some of the local mountains.

I am loving checking out supermarkets and I am reacquainting myself with the swiss cuisine. In France we have had to search for fresh milk as the french seem to prefer UHT milk. In Switzerland we are getting our raw milk from the farmer’s vending machine. Sampling beautiful cheeses and breads and choosing turkey over chicken.

So here is one of the super easy and quick dinners I made in the van, inspired by recipe suggestion on the back of the Turkey packet…

 

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Turkey escalopes with a mustard and cream sauce

  • Season Turkey or Chicken Schnitzels with salt and pepper and saute in a pan with some butter and olive oil.
  • When the meat is almost cooked, add a teaspoon of dijon mustard to the pan and a good dash of cream or milk and an pinch of paprika. Dissolve the mustard and cook for another minute before serving.
  • I served the escalopes with sauteed capsicums and potatoes, also seasoned with some sweet paprika.
  • Serve with a salad, green beans or broccoli. And mop up the sauce with some crusty baguette…
  • Enjoy with an ice cold bear or white wine.

 

Piers, the avid flea market explorer has also had some success. He has supplemented the camper kitchen with a beautiful blue pasta pot and a small orange Le Creuset saucepan. They were both a few Euros each and once we work out how to pack them at the end of the trip, they are going to look great in my kitchen back home….In Switzerland, he has already scored a great range of swiss tools and now he is looking at getting a 3 gearboxes. Don’t ask….

As for travelling with the kids….well, we are having some intense arguments and gorgeous solidarity, a lot of hot headed discussions, we had to stop the van a couple of times, and I am sitting in the back more than I would like to. I guess the first month is all about getting used to the new life. Getting used to having only each other to play with. They have moments of missing home, Zoe and school. We are finding what works and what not. While I love long drives, the kids get bored and want to stay in one spot longer. So in that sense, the housesit is a great opportunity to get back into a homely routine. But amongst (mostly mine) frustrations of parenting on the road, I see the closeness, solidarity and friendship the kids are developing. When they are arguing, it is easy to forget, that they are, above all, each others best friends. The boys adore their big sister and Emila is right with them, when they go on their adventures. Even here, where Emilia could have her own room and privacy, she is choosing to sleep with the boys. Go figure. So it is these moments that I am bringing up during the moments, where I am feeling particularly frustrated with them, knowing, that they will have forgotten their argument before I can mutter “whyarewetravellingwiththesethreemonstersagain????”

 

Food on the road

Snapshots of our days in Switzerland

 

Till next time,

Alex

 

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