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Saturday, 31 August 2013

And . . . relax

Bringing some of that maƱana spirit back from my holiday, I am doing my end of week blog on a Saturday.  Not a great deal to report.  I have decided to "put it out there" on my return, and so far has spoken to an agency about a job (already gone), and internal manager about a new role in Starfleet (already gone) and tried, but failed, to get some time with a potential new manager about doing what I do now for another account (finally got something in the diary for next Wednesday).  On Friday, I also got a quick email from an old chum in a different bit of Starfleet because his area is looking for two new people to join the team.  I am not 100% sure it is for me, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, and the old chum, a very lively and positive kind of guy, has convinced me that my fears are nothing to worry about, and so he is putting me forward.  I am more than happy to find out more, and by so doing can see whether a) I have what the role needs, b) whether the role has what I need, and c) whether it is actually the right bit of Starfleet to which I might like to move.  These are all questions best answered by having a chat with the hiring manager, and with a fair wind and a supportive chum, that is indeed what I might have.

I have also in principle volunteered for a bit of give back as a Team Leader for a day session, hopefully to be setup in my local Starfleet office, to provide a one day masterclass to people from various charities.  The idea that most charities cannot afford much if any IT advice, so we can give them a basic introduction to one of a number of pre-configured training days.  I am actually rather excited about this since it ticks my "nice to give back" box on a wider scale, as well as being a good credit towards my internal "give-back" obligations.  The bit needed to make it happen is for the organiser, London based, to "put the feelers out" as to whether there is a critical mass of charities in my area wanting to avail themselves of such a day.  I really hope there are, as I would love to make it happen.

I am also going to try taking up meditation.  Early days, prompted initially by a LifeHacker article which included a "2 minutes a day" regime, and also the obligatory iPhone app, to help further.  I will report further on this if it comes to anything. 

We have A&E over for dinner tonight, which is always a pleasure, and with the added ingredient of a lot of debriefing on our European Tour, since, as I am sure you know, they are our 'vannin' buddies in the UK.  I could just point them to my last two blogs, but where's the fun in that*, so it will be a chance to re-live the 18 days, as well as having a 'van-sensitive sounding-board for our thoughts and conclusions.  I guess it could be worse, we could be taking them through fifteen hundred carefully selected holiday snaps.

I hope you are now having a great weekend, and I particularly hope that Bad Man and 30% are having a fab time in the US, where they seem to be dedicating their lives to putting in the miles.

So actually, on read back, maybe there is quite a lot to report.

* No kidding. Ed.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The rest of the trip

I am actually sitting at my desk at home, having just spent 2 hours clearing some of my emails.  As I have said before, and will say again now, email is definitely the "Black Death" of the modern age, taking some people out completely and sapping the life force from the rest.  This is therefore predominantly being written for posterity, and is also from memory.

The previous entry ended at Lake Garda, with a rather fetching shot of my flip-flops.  The following day we did indeed do mostly nothing.  We did nip out to the nearest supermarket for food and drink, and to find ice (not so easy to find on the continent we have found) for our drinks fridge.  We also invested in an inflatable dingy, which it is fair to say was a great hit with the whole family, and gave us all many hours of fun.  Best of all, Lake Garda being a lake, there were no currents or nasties to catch out the unwary, so the Maggots could take the boat out any time they wanted, with us able to keep an eye from our awning on the water's edge.

We spent a week in Lake Garda, and the main events of note we did were:
  • we took the ferry over to Sirmione, which was a delightful small village with a castle and LOTS of ice-cream shops.  It was a bit touristy, but that is the price you pay for visiting somewhere that is a destination, and we spent a happy few hours wandering round, getting the feel of the place and indulging in the largest ice-cream seen on planet Earth.
  • We hired a motor-boat for half a day.  This was a massive extravagance, but was also the best spend we did all holiday.  We have an absolutely fantastic time on the water, going very fast*, diving off in the middle and visiting, within 200m of shore, a number of the places round the lake.  You may consider us vacuous and shallow, but this was in our top 3 activities.
  • We visited Venice, by train.  We unfortunately had an abortive day the day before, when arriving at the station we encountered a half hour queue for tickets, so abandoned.  There were some raised voices, and apparently I am a "Dennis the Menace", but Plan B evolved and we went down that evening to buy tickets in advance for the next day, which started a bit damp, but ended up cooler and by far the better of the two days to visit.  And what a place.  I can say nothing to add to the words already written about the place, except to give our personal experience.  The waterways are absolutely bonkers, with private boats, taxis boats and bus boats all jostling for space with gondolas.  Quite how there are not more accidents is unknown to me, and in fact the day before a tourist had been sadly crushed to death between a gondola and bus.  On our visit, we took the bus down to St Mark's Square, wandered a bit, took the bus back, wandered a bit and had a beer by the famous Rialto bridge, at 19 Euros for 2 beers and an apple juice, but worth every penny.  The place was amazing, and something on our list to return to at some later stage in life.  We also bought a small vase made of Murano glass, but way of a memento and to celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary.
We had a lovely time at the lake, spoilt only by the music.  We were unfortunately near the main beach area, and there was a disco bar down the coast.  We were watching Game of Thrones with headphones most evenings so it did not really cause us much pain, however it did spoil for me a bit what was otherwise a most idyllic location, and I will be mentioning this in the review I write.

The main issue with the site was the pokey nature of our pitch.  This was something that LO had worried about from the day we booked, and I had worried about only from the day we arrived.  We had help man-handling the 'van in to its space, dropping the uphill wheel in to a specially made dip that kept the 'van level.  We were also two deep at the water's edge, with a tent between us and the road and campervans close either side, with a pretty narrow drive from our pitch to the road.  Our worries were therefore, in order:
  • how would we man-handle the van out of the dip
  • how would we position the car hitched to the 'van in its closely-packed position
  • would the car be able to drag the 'van up the first steep bump on to the road, and subsequently up the initially steep road to the top of the site
  • Once off the site, we then had some narrow roads, a blind bend and a "one car at a time" rat run up to the main road through the village. 
In the end, the night before departure we got 5 people to help man-handle the van out of the dip, and turn it around ready for towing out the following morning.  We spent the last night at a bit of an angle as a result.

The following morning, no-one had taken the inner pitch (the previous Dutch family having left 3 days previously) and with a bit of wheel-spin, and no-one in the car to add to the weight, I did drag us out of the pitch and up to level ground.  The final narrow roads between the site exit and the main road were hairy, but LO ran ahead to give me the thumbs up when things were clear.

Finally on the road, with a great sigh of relief from both the adults (the Maggots being largely oblivious to any problems), we were heading for the Black Forest.

The journey took us through the Swiss Alps, past Lake Como and through the Gotthard Tunnel (about as long as the Mont Blanc tunnel, yet free).  The scenery was out of this world.  High peeks, some with snow, plunging valleys with wide, white rivers and cable cars and chair lifts doing near vertical ascents, or so they seemed to us.  LO did comment that perhaps skiing was not for her, mostly because she would not be able to go up in such chair lifts, and once up, she could not get down again.

The journey to the Black Forest was around five hours.  We arrived late afternoon and were setup in no time.  Now, as you know, I try to avoid national stereotypes, but the German site was very efficient.  A man took us to our site, helped us un-hitch, put the 'van in to position and hitched up our power.  The latter turned out to be a process where our power cable was locked in to the power cupboard, and a meter reading taken, so that we were then able to enjoy the pleasure of paying for our electricity use, the only site we have ever used that does this.  My view is just add a bit to the day rate and avoid the labour-intensive process.  We could not get the wireless working, so had to use 3G to download the next batch of Desert Island Discs.

We were two nights here, so spent the next day visiting Triberg.  This is a small place, hard to find on the map, but actually home to the largest waterfall in Germany, something we walked up and down, before viewing a few cuckoo clocks (the Black Forest is also home of the clock, so it seems) on the way to getting a coffee and a slice of Black Forest Gateaux.  Well, you have to don't you.  It was a delightful village and a great half day out.

The next day, were were on the road again for Luxembourg.  Our site was large but fine for a night, and we took a short stroll down very steep steps to the local village, which was rather disappointing.  Otherwise, we did nothing much, reading, drinking and chilling.  We were starting to tire of the routine at this point, so did not even visit the swimming pool.

The next day were were off to Belgium for two nights at Klein Strand.  This site was easily the worst site of the lot.  The actual pitch was fine (the usual European pitch bordered by hedges) but the site itself was a dive.  It had a chippie, and the lake, with all the available water-sports on it, was somewhat over-sold on their website.  Nevertheless, we were there for two nights, and spent the full day in Bruges, the Venice of the North, which was an equally delightful city.  We took a tour bus, frowned on by some but actually the most time-efficient way to get just enough information so you feel you have a sense of the place, and can also highlight bits to which you want to return.

Our other activity was something we had read about in a paper in Italy, a tour of a brewery.  We had lost the paper clipping by this time, however some Googling of articles online afterwards confirmed that we had indeed visited the same brewery, namely the Halve Maan (Half Moon) Brewery.  We had a dry (in wit, if not in drinking habits) but witty tour guide who was obviously a big beer fan, taking the tour of the old brewery, going up and down some very steep stairs, the highest point being on the roof, and ending with a free Brugse Zot bier.  In fact we liked it so much, we bought two similar glasses from the shop as souvenirs. The tour for adults was 7 Euros, with a free beer (priced at 3.50 Euro separately) so was fantastic value, as well as very interesting, informative and amusing.  One of the many jokes the guide told was that after our free beer, maybe we would try the double-strength beer, at 7 percent, and if we liked that, we might try the triple-strength beer, at 9 percent.  If we were really hardy, we might end with the quadruple strength beer at 11 percent.  If we did, when they handed over the beer, it would come with a piece of paper and a pen, on which you should write your name and the name of the hotel ("the one next to the church" not being particularly useful there being a dozen or more churches in the city).

The following day it was shower, breakfast and leave, which we did in record time, arriving at the Tunnel nearly 2 hours earlier than our planned crossing, and we were able to arrange for an earlier crossing as a result.  We always have the feeling that once you are on your way home, you might as well just get going as soon as possible, so this was good news, and we arrived home at Scobi Towers at around 2pm in the afternoon.  We then had a good couple of hours unpacking and clearing up before we had had enough, and retired to the sofa.

One casualty of the trip is the bathroom cabinet and sink, which we now know is a single plastic unit that attaches to the wall with four screws.  Presumably the amount of miles we covered finally did the screws in, because the whole unit had come off the wall.  This has therefore been added to my fairly long list of DIY tasks.

We covered 2220 miles on the trip, saw some fantastic sites, had some fantastic experiences and overall felt it was a success.  There are a few lessons we have learnt, though:
  • We may have selected too many sites/stops.  While doing so reduces the length of each leg, setting up and setting down does get a bit tedious, and can induce a bit of a "it is Tuesday so this must be Luxembourg" type of feeling.  I think I would rather do less stops and do longer driving days, and maybe having a minimum of 3 nights at any one location
  • we need to do a bit more research on the sites.  We assumed that as Caravan Club endorsed sites, they would be good, and while they were not bad, several were larger and tattier than we like.  We must actually research each site, Trip Advisor etc, just to be sure that the site is right for us.
  • We also need to research more the places we visit.  Bruges was a success because we decided that a bus tour and brewery tour was all we wanted to do.  Geneva was a failure because other than a general sense of the place, we did not have a plan.
  • Shade is very important.  We had the awning setup for shade, but really needed to extend it with a porch to be double the size, just to ensure there was enough shade for all the family, at any time of day
  • Refrigeration - our plastic fridge was just not good enough.  In Lake Garda, ice melted in a couple of hours.  We need a Yeti, as introduced to us by Brad and Angelina.
  • Space - we chose to keep the beds made up in the van, which was fine as we lived outside, but we did not have a "place for everything and everything in its place".  In particular, an outside locker that goes in under the double bed, something like A&E have, would have been ideal for us to store the chairs, table, umbrella and other outside bits.  When were were doing one or two nighters, they could stay there and did not need unpacking from the van before we could use it, and in any situation they gave more space that we had for storage.

One quick comment about driving.  Received wisdom is that French and Italian drivers are bonkers.  I did not find this, in fact of all the nationalities, the Belgians were the worst, but they paled in to insignificance compared to the British, with the two worst bits of driving, caused I suspect by irrational 'van-hating, were executed by British cars.

* I doubt any world records were broken, but regardless, the top speed was fast enough for us and did generate a lot of screaming

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The first week

Well, actually, not quite a week, but nearly, and it makes a good title.

The adventure started at 8.30 as we left home for the tunnel. Nearly at Ashford, the puncture light came on, so a hurried call to the nice people at Eurotunnel to arrange for a later slot gave us the time to ring LeasePlan to find the nearest Quikfit. A quick call to them to confirm that we could get in and out with the van and we arrived at the garage to have the puncture fixed. The trouble was, when they went round the tyres, none had low pressure. So, a quick reverse back fifty metres and we were on our way, with the tyre flat light glowing for the rest of the day. This story continues later. 

We arrived at the tunnel almost, but not quite, in time for our original time slot but having picked the automated queue (one of our key lessons has been to be careful which queue you select, not being as nimble as usual).

The lucky thing about the Tunnel terminal, like ferry terminals and any other waiting-for-transportation places, is that there is lots to do and time goes quickly (dramatic irony), but in the end we were loaded and on our way. Forty minutes later and we had arrived and those in front of us were happily departing, however we could not because the doors in front of us had not opened. Two cheerful and banter-full English guys tried to force them open to no effect, and it took the French engineer, playing the strong and silent role (excluding a couple of Gaelic grunts) to get them open before we were able to disembark, with everyone behind us moaning about the caravan that, even on the Tunnel train, was holding them up. 

We were soon on the Autoroute heading for our site near Reims, and what a delightful site it was. 
We backed on to a river on a delightful site, and once setup we were in the pool rinsing and cooling our bodies from a weary day of travel. 

That evening, I Sussed the tyre issue, it was coz I had increased the pressure for towing, and during the drive down, maybe due to them heating up on the journey, they had obviously tripped the sensor. I just had to do a reset and all was fine. 

Next day we visted "Merlin's Castle", to be precise, Pierfonds Castle, where they filmed Merlin's, the TV series much loved in Scobi towers. It was a fantastic castle, tastefully presented in a typically understated French way, in a lovely small town that was planned round a small lake. 

Next day, we were on the road, heading for Beaune. As we arrived at the Beaune exit, it suddenly occurred to us that the the small detour to the site was actually an hour and forty five minutes away, which was a bit less than the time to our third site. We quickly rang the third site to confirm they had space for us a night early, which the did, so we detoured to Colombiere and arrived at around 4 pm. We setup, swam, ate, and retired happy to watch the end of Bond with the kids and to start Game of Thrones for us. 

Next day we visited Geneva, which was OK but not wow. We arrived by bus, departing from a fantastic shopping and aquatic centre near the site, slightly shell-shocked and realising you cannot just turn up at a city and work out what to do. Luckily they had Tourist Angels, young people who wander round dispensing advice to people just like us. We visited the Jet d'Eau and the cathedral before we called it a day, Maggot 2 having been sick the night before and LO also not feeling right. 

Back at the 'van, we met our new neighbour, a crazy naturist Dutch guy and his family. They were on a five week tour in a newly bought campervan, and their son Yip took a shine to Maggot 2. The next day we left, having had a tour of their van and having said goodbye, Yip having given Maggot 1 and 2 a hug. We then took a fantastic route through the Alps, and through the Mont Blanc tunnel, a 58 euro shortcut and a most amazing 7 mile tunnel through a hell of a lot of rock. The views were to die for, and we seemed to arrive in no time, ably accompanied by several Desert Island Disc podcasts. This site, Camp Fontanelle, was rather poky but fine and with a most amazing pitch, right on Lake Garda. 

Tomorrow, we will do nothing.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Well, that did not go so well

The meeting with prospective new boss did not happen last night.  No word from said person until I IM'd him this morning, the transcript of which was:

me: hi
he: Sorry for missing call, been busy with new project that is not going so well.  You around today?
me: yes, up to 4pm

This does not bode well.  I am totally relaxed about the fact that a) he may be very busy (who isn't these days) and b) I am not actually the most important thing in his universe, however the bit I am really struggling with is the lack of professionalism being shown - no ping/ring/email or carrier pigeon to say sorry for missing call - and also that if he cannot even be bothered to speak to me now, when he must in some way be slightly in need of the role being filled, then that does not augur well for any ongoing relationship.  There is probably nothing worse than a disorganised and disinterested boss, and so far, he seems to be both.  I shall take the zen approach and allow him a further chance to demonstrate I have been hasty in my assessment, but I can see that I will be out of here still not having had a conversation.  If that happens, then it is a quick note to the two managers interested in filling the role, and then I shall be offsky with a capital "off".

Not quite how I had hoped and planned things.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Two days to go

In the office, having a meeting later with my prospective new boss for the internal post, have all my questions listed and looking forward to finding out what is what.

Otherwise, I am just going to be closing down all the loose threads, in anticipation of handing over to my very able deputy, who we shall call Sir Bradley, due to his predilection for riding a two-wheeled mobility device.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


We had a fantastic time at Riverside Lakes, as we always do, and the weather, which on paper was good to middling, ended up being great to good in the sky, with just the odd bit of out of hours precipitation.

Fishing was OK.  I caught a couple of nice bream, and Brad a good Carp, Koi Carp actually, which was slightly bizarre like he was fishing in someone's back garden pond.

The Maggots has a great time, in fact Maggot 2 was gently in tears on our return coz "he had had just such a fantastic time", and we are already planning our next trip there.  It is tempting to not wait a year this time, but then we remembered the old adage "too much Riverside Lakes makes a man feel prudent, and then goodbye to happiness", so will probably aim for next Summer.

We now have the van on the drive, and are actively packing it, using the mighty packing list that I made.  I know, is there no end to my talents?

Speak again soon, and hopefully will be blogging whilst away, if I can get a connection.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

And . . . relax

Only Thursday, but a long weekend beckons so Thursday is the new Friday.  We are off to Riverside Lakes which is, when the weather if fair or better, as near to 'vannin' heaven as this particular clan has found.  It is quiet, spaced out, with lakes and lots of woods and islands and other stuff for the kids, a bit of fishing for the male adults and, this year, the prospect of swimming in the lakes.

The report from Brad and Angelina, who have been there since Monday, is that they have been on the beach ever day, so bring wetsuits and body boards.  Their Maggots also "cannot wait to go swimming in the lake", which is rather nice.  LO is horrified, but then anything without chlorine is gonna be suspect in her eyes.  Does she not know that our long-ago ancestors bathed and abluted in, and drank from*, just such water sources.  That is probably a lie, but you know what I mean.  It is just water, full of filthy fish up to no good undoubtedly, and maybe the odd waterborne nasty, but overall it is wet and inviting. 

So, I will be finishing early today to get on the road to get us to our own slice of heaven, with the weather looking mostly fair to good with the odd bit of wet, which we can work round, and very much looking forward to every single little thing that awaits us.

I therefore wish you an early happy weekend, and speak next week.

* Ideally somewhere other than where the ablutions took place