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Your Questions Answered About Two Years Of Full Time Motorhome Travelling

Your Questions Answered About Two Years Of Full Time Motorhome Travelling

by Ruth Murdoch  |  16 June 2019  | Summary Blogs

Today, 16th June 2019, we’ve been touring Europe in our motorhome full time for two years.

Initially, I was going to write a typical post about all the things we’ve done and all the places we’ve been to.

But then I thought, is that what people would be interested in? 

So… Using social media (aka a couple of the more proactive motorhome Facebook groups I belong to), I asked the questions…

If you were to interview someone who has been living full time in a motorhome touring Europe, what questions would you have for them? What would you want to know?

So that’s how I’ve written this blog post.

Be warned, it’s a bit long (obviously there’s lots of questions out there).  And in order to give you in-depth answers, I’ve linked to some more information.  So where you see orange coloured text you can click on this to delve deeper into a different blog.

If you don’t wish to read the lot, then just scroll through the table of contents for the questions you want to know the answer to.

Alternatively, save the post and read it over several sessions.

This is written from our perspective and may not be how others see the world or would respond.

Below are the questions that were asked.

Your Questions

Before we get going, I thought an introduction might help to set the scene.

About Us

We are a married Kiwi couple, Ruth & Alan, who decided we wanted to spend some time exploring Europe. Our initial idea was to travel for one year, then it extended to two years and now the actual end date is undefined.  We will continue with this lifestyle while our health, finances, and circumstances allow.

It helps that Alan, my husband, has an Irish passport, which makes travelling through Europe easy once you understand the Schengen rules.

We wanted to keep a diary of our travels, to share with friends and family so we set about learning the art of website construction, blogging, and posting about our travels.  We are yet to perfect it and www.travel-cook-eat.com still has a long way to go but we are getting there slowly. We love writing in a way that makes life easier for other travellers.

We hope that if you are reading this you can learn from (and avoid) our mistakes, enjoy our locations, follow in our footsteps and set your own treasure of positive travelling experiences.

We have a website, Facebook page, Instagram page, and a few videos on our YouTube page.

We have deliberately decided to not monetise our website, so you won’t be bombarded with adverts throughout our blogs.

Betsy, Our Home On Wheels

What Are The Driving Skills Like [in Europe]?

From the 26 countries we’ve visited over the last two years, the overall standard of driving has been very good.

Slovenian drivers will stop for pedestrians before you even decide you want to cross the road.  It’s almost the opposite in Italy.

At present we are in Italy and I’d have to say the Italian drivers can be a little aggressive.  The roads don’t help though, as they are in very poor condition and are narrow, particularly around Tuscany. We have spent more than five months in Italy during different times and my opinion of the Italian drivers hasn’t changed. I confirmed my thoughts with an Italian friend who is a courier driver and he concurs. Italian drivers, however, are not the worst.

Whilst Morocco is on a different continent, the Moroccan drivers win the prize for the worst drivers we have encountered on our travels, hands down.  (But don’t let that put you off visiting Morocco).

If you want to take a look at some of our driving in Italy, you can have a laugh here.

Typical Loads In Morocco

Is Overnight Parking Readily Available?

We mainly wild camp and have more often than not found free spots to stay the night.

There are some countries, however, that don’t allow wild camping (Croatia and Slovenia) and one country where it’s not such a good idea (Morocco).

For us, wild camping just means that you are not in an official camper parking area or camping ground.  This could be beside a beach, along the roadside, in the bush or even in a supermarket carpark.

In some of the Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Finland and Norway) there are laws allowing the right-of-access to wild camp providing you follow a few simple rules.  These rules state you must keep 150 metres away from inhabited buildings, if you wish to stay more than two nights you must seek permission and above all else you must be considerate and thoughtful.

The best place we’ve wild camped was in Greece.  We would often wake up to million dollar vistas; from crystal clear oceans of Vourvourou right outside our door, to the Greek ruins of Delphi, and the mountaintop monasteries of Meteora to name a few.  It probably helped that we were there in the low season as during the summer many of our spots could have been overrun with tourists and may have had parking restrictions imposed.

Are There Many Campgrounds Available With Full Facilities?

There are plenty of camping grounds throughout Europe that have varying levels of facilities ranging from very basic up to virtually five-star with top-notch swimming pools, restaurants and entertainment.

If the camping grounds cater for motorhomes only then they don’t typically have cooking facilities. The industry is very seasonal in many countries and you may find in the off-season that the great majority of campgrounds are shut. 

We found this particularly true in Greece and Turkey and you should research online to confirm opening dates.

On the other hand, during the busy summer season, many camping grounds are full, particularly in the popular areas, such as coastal Croatia.

As mentioned, it’s illegal to wild camp in Croatia, so we chose to use camping grounds rather than risk high fines.  They offered showers (some good, some not so), toilet blocks, black and grey water dumping points and electricity.  We were there near the end of the high season in August 2017, and had some trouble finding a vacancy if we hadn’t booked ahead.

What is the General Cost of Travel?

Most people want to know what it costs us to travel and for this reason we reveal all our travel costs in a separate post.

In addition, below is some more in-depth information regarding some of the main expenses.

Diesel varies from country to country.  The cheapest place in Europe for diesel that we have come across was Spain where it varied from between €0.98 to €1.15 (NZ$1.67 – NZ$1.96).  The dearest place for diesel was Norway where we paid 16.15NOK – the equivalent to €1.65, or NZ$2.82 per litre.  While writing this I spied diesel for €1.72 in Italy (NZ$2.93) – however we wouldn’t be buying any at this price as we filled up at an Auchan supermarket diesel pump recently for €1.42. We use a website (https://www.fuelflash.eu/eu/) to find Europe’s cheapest local diesel and LPG.

Tolls vary greatly and are expensive in Greece, France and Portugal. Interestingly, Portugal and Greece are both poor countries and the locals cannot afford to use the toll roads.  Due to French protests, we bit the bullet and drove on their motorways.  It cost us €39 to travel for three hours.  Never again!

Wherever there are toll roads however, there are also alternative secondary free roads.  These usually take longer (in some cases, eg Italy, it’s a lot, lot longer).  These roads are less direct, not well maintained, narrower, windier, and often travel through narrow built up areas.

Nevertheless, in most cases we choose the free roads because we see much better scenery.  Plus we usually have the time for a longer drive and prefer to save money (even when calculating the extra diesel costs).  Most navigation systems (Google Maps, Tom Tom, Garmin etc) have a setting for avoiding tolls roads so you can compare travel times and distance for both options.

We use the ViaMichelin app (ViaMichelin GPS, Route Planner) or website (www.ViaMichelin.com) to estimate the cost of travel and tolls.  A little planning beforehand can mean that you take the most appropriate route for you that day.

Food is our biggest cost at around €90 per week (NZD $156) for the two of us.  We rarely eat out and cook most meals from scratch.  And because we love cooking, we tend to eat well (better than many of the restaurants we’ve visited).

Fresh Prawn Straight From The Boat in Sweden

Is There a Breakdown, Tow Repair Insurance Available and at What Cost?

The subject of insurances comes up often on motorhoming Facebook pages and is a hot topic among UK travellers.

To be honest, virtually every thread you read seems to have people recommending some products and disparaging others.

In most cases, owners buy breakdown insurance as an add-on to their vehicle insurance, however, they can also buy separate policies.

There are two traps that are catching some people out.  Many policies limit how long you can travel for in Europe, either in a single trip or in a calendar year.  Some policies also limit the size of the motorhome they will cover for breakdowns and recoveries.  Make sure you are completely aware of the fine print and conditions.

It is a good idea to ask about other peoples experience on relevant Facebook pages to help make a short list of the better providers.

Betsy, our motorhome, is French registered, so we have French insurance with AXA.  This includes basic breakdown insurance and roadside recovery within the annual premium of €822 (NZ$1,412) per annum.  The coverage area is extensive and includes all of Europe, Morocco and Turkey. 

Thankfully we haven’t had the need to call upon this.

No Breakdown Insurance Needed Here

What’s The Best Time To Travel Throughout Europe?

The great thing about Europe is that there is something for everyone.

For us, we don’t like extremes of heat or cold, or crowds of tourist (even though this is us), so we plan our travels accordingly.

During the heat of summer, you will find us in the northern countries, such as Scandinavia, or Poland (where we are heading for now). 

During the winter the best destinations are the south of Greece (including Crete), the south of Turkey, south of Spain/Portugal or Morocco

Staying north during the winter is not so good unless your motorhome is properly winterised, with winter tyres, and double floor insulation with ‘wet’ type heating.  Ours isn’t so we head south before it gets too cold and the snow sets in. Planning travel around anticipated local conditions is one of the fun challenges of being full time on the road.

We absolutely loved travelling through Norway in the autumn, where our photos are stunning with the yellow and red leaves against the snow-capped mountains and fjords in the foreground.

It is a good idea to avoid the real summer hot spots during the high season as they can be totally overrun with tourists and locals.

The shoulder months of April/May or August/September can provide great weather but a more relaxed experience.  During our first winter, we went to Greece and Crete.  For our second winter, we travelled to the south of Spain before taking a ferry across the Straits of Gibraltar to enjoy the winter warmth of Morocco in North Africa.

Betsy in Norweigian Snow

Autumn In Finland

Stunning Autumn Colours Norway

Stunning Scenery From A Warm Winter in Morocco

Are People Hostile to Motorhomers or Friendly?

Throughout Europe the locals have been either friendly or neutral towards us.

When we engage others in conversations we nearly always receive a friendly and interested response.  Part of that is probably because as Kiwis travelling Europe, we have a point of difference and people want to find out who we are and what we are doing on their side of the world.

Some countries are well set up to accommodate motorhome travelling, e.g. France and Germany have a nationwide system of ‘Aires’ or ‘Stellplatz’.  These are areas set aside for motorhomes and typically provided by the local authorities.  They offer water, dumping stations and even electricity for free or a small charge.

Spain and Portugal have historically been havens for motorhomes with literally thousands of places you can park for a night or ten, provided you don’t engage in ‘camping behaviour’.  In recent years the local authorities and police have started cracking down on this due to the massive influx on motorhomes during the winter.

Some areas are banning motorhomes, or the police are moving motorhomes on, or in some cases, people are being heavily fined.  Generally though, as long as you are respectful, don’t stay too long, don’t set out your chairs, hang out washing or show other ‘camping behaviour’ Spain and Portugal are still great places for motorhomes.

Morocco in Winter on a paid site, just €1.50 (NZ$2.40) per night

What Class of License is Needed to Hire a Motorhome?

The typical motorhome available to buy or rent has a maximum allowable laden mass of 3.5 tonnes, which is the total weight of the vehicle including the driver, passengers, fuel, and water. 

A standard drivers license in Europe allows the license holder to drive a vehicle up to this maximum weight. In Australia and New Zealand the car drivers license allows up to 4.5 tonnes and 6 tonnes respectively, however, you are unlikely to be able to rent anything over 3.5 tonnes.

Many countries also require a foreign driver to have an IDP (International Drivers Permit) that is issued by an organisation in your home country, such as the Automobile Association, the Royal Automobile Club, or your local Post Office. 

The IDP is used together with your national driver’s license and acts as a translation into an agreed international format.

So in summary, you should have your normal national car driver’s license and an International Drivers Permit when you hire a motorhome in Europe. 

Betsy In The Sahara Desert

What Size Is Best?

 

There is a reason why motorhomes and campervans are made in all sizes, from under five metres to over ten metres.

We all have different preferences, needs, and ideas about what is best. For us, we believe our motorhome is sized perfectly. 

Betsy, our motorhome is 7.4 metres long, 3 metres high and 2.2 metres wide and is considered a big (but not very big) motorhome.  She is not so large that we can’t tuck into [two] car parks for a quiet night’s sleep while giving us room to move around.  She has separated living and sleeping quarters and a decent sized separate shower and toilet (which we love).

A smaller motorhome is more manoeuvrable around tight roads and small villages and can park in [one] smaller car park.

A campervan type vehicle is narrower, which gives less space inside but is also easier to drive and park.  Some campervans are deliberately set up so they don’t look like campervans.  This is so they can be stealthy and sleep overnight in spots that don’t allow motorhomes to stay. 

We have electric bikes so we can avoid those parking problems and explore some amazing old town centres by bike.  We didn’t want to be overly cramped and haven’t regretted going bigger.

In fact, we recently drove a 6m motorhome and felt it was just too small for full time living. 

The very big motorhomes can be limited in where they can drive and free camp but of course, can be really nice inside.  They obviously cost more to buy, run and maintain.

In summary, you need to decide what suits your personality, the type of travelling you want to do and the places you want to visit.  Another important consideration is how will you use your motorhome?  Is it just for the weekend, or will you live in it full time?  Then rent a couple of motorhomes before buying to see if you can cope with the size you are considering.

What Happens If Your Van Breaks Down Or Need Repairs And Is Not Usable For Days?

Great question.

Most motorhomers have some type of breakdown insurance.

Depending on the insurance policy you may only have vehicle recovery or possibly a replacement vehicle or even accommodation supplied.

If the worst happens you will need to find somewhere else to stay, alternative transport if you need that and adjust your plans to suit the reality of your situation.  

We have just experienced this exact situation.

Our motorhome needed some repairs, which meant that we were without her for two weeks. Our dealer generously loaned us another (6 metre) motorhome but we found this to be too small and cramped for our comfort. 

We, therefore, spent this time staying in AirBnB’s throughout Tuscany, Italy and used the loan motorhome for transport only. 

Had we not been given a loan vehicle we would have hired a car and still stayed in AirBnB’s.

Making the most of our time in Tuscany, Italy we indulged in some truffle hunting.  

What Happens If You Any Health Issues?

Life and health issues still happen, especially when travelling long term and it is certainly more difficult to get medical treatment when you are in a foreign country.

If you are a European citizen, you will have a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) which gives access to state-funded medical treatment while travelling in Europe.

Other countries have reciprocal agreements with some European states to treat each other’s citizens.  It is wise to make yourself aware of any that may assist you (see also the next question).

We have both been sick at different times.

We’ve had to find doctors, get blood tests taken, find specialists, and even had a recent experience in a public hospital.   Luckily there has been nothing serious so far and we hope it stays that way.

For us, to return home to New Zealand for medical reasons (relating to our health) would be a huge blow so we try to stay as healthy as possible and avoid risky activities.

We have the time and flexibility to just stay put if we need some recovery or downtime. 

Luckily, we can and do both drive which is fortunate should one of us sustain a physical injury like a broken leg.

Preparation and planning are important.

Take all the medication with you that you expect to need as well as any relevant medical records. Find out about how you can get repeat prescriptions filled if necessary or stock up. 

Also it’s not a bad idea to bring doctors scripts with you as you may get them filled, depending on which country you are in.  Have any dental checks and work completed before you leave home.

I’m asthmatic and needed some Ventolin.  I walked into a pharmacy in France with my empty inhaler and they [reluctantly] replaced it with a new one for about €5 (less than NZ$9).

We hope to look this good by the time we finish travelling!

What Insurance Can Be Put In Place To Cover Health Issues?

When we visited a hospital recently we were pleased to learn that Australia has a bilateral health agreement with Italy

That meant that I could be treated free of cost as I had the required documents due to having lived in Australia for many years.

Our health insurance with QBE from Australia covered us for the first two years. It wasn’t cheap but gave us comprehensive cover (which we haven’t had to claim on, fortunately). 

After two years, our options were to find alternative cover or self-insure. The insurance cover we are considering is called World Nomads. It’s not as good as our original insurance, which means that we have a certain amount of self-insurance but on the positive side it was significantly cheaper.

Best, Worst And Funniest Stories

Our best story would have to be the time when we saw the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Norway.

We arrived into Norway on 17th September 2018 and were told it’s far too early in the winter season to see the lights.

Not only did we see the lights that night for several hours, but earlier in the evening we witnessed a rare and stunning sunset that is only possible two or three days of the year (weather permitting).  To see more photos or read the whole story click here.

The worst story would have to be the time when I got locked in a toilet in Greece.  It was the most frightening thing that has happened to me on our travels.  Here’s the story.

The Worst thing that happened to us both was getting stuck in a snowstorm driving in Norway.  We had full sunshine in the morning, and by 6pm we were in serious trouble.  Here’s the full story.

The funniest story was when the locals in Sicily, Italy coaxed us on.  We had to ask a  local man to move his car so we could get through to Ancient Noto. For the full impact make sure you watch this video through to the end.

How Do You Budget Your Money?

We use an app that’s loaded on my iPhone called MoneyWiz to record every expense (both cash and card purchases). 

We don’t leave the shop until the expense is recorded. With this app, we can quickly see our spending for the month, both overall and individual categories. It also handles different currencies easily (eg Morocco, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Turkey, etc).

We have a set monthly budget but only loosely watch it to ensure we don’t overspend. All our costs are published on our website and in different blogs.

Knowing what countries are cost-effective helps too, as we can plan to stay in those places to compensate for other times when we travel to more expensive countries.

Turkey, Morocco, and Greece are low-cost places to spend the winter months.

We are heading up to Hungary, Poland, and Czechia this summer and we understand these countries are cost effective.

Having said that, we don’t shy away from the more expensive countries, such as Norway

We did plan our trip and made sure to stock up on supplies in the neighbouring cheaper country of Germany.

Do You Work While Travelling?

Alan has been working remotely part-time while we’ve been away, however that has now stopped. We spent eight years planning this trip and saved up hard to ensure we would have enough money.

While at home we would sacrifice going out and spending money on the weekends, while we watched our friends socialising, eating, drinking and going on holidays. Our business in Australia was teaching people how to value their money and spend on what’s important to them. 

We denied ourselves for years and even now we are careful about where our money is spent. We don’t eat out often but thankfully we like cooking and attend cooking lessons in different countries.

We do spend money on experiences; for example, we hired a yacht in Greece and went sailing for a week.

We are currently exploring options to earn money and supplement our savings while staying on the road longer.

This little fella was working hard planning for his winter

How Has It Changed You?

It’s true what they say about travelling.  It will change you.

When attending school as a teenager I was not at all interested in history.  That’s changed now and I love learning about what happened to the people in the countries we have visited.  I like learning about the different battles the countries had, the rise and fall of empires, who took them over, how the people used to live and what life, in general, was like.

It makes me sad to see beautiful countries spoilt by rubbish.  As Kiwis we were brought up with the slogan “Be A Tidy Kiwi”.  That meant that littering was a big no, no. 

We find ourselves wanting to leave the countries, towns, and parking spots in a better condition than we found them.  That often means removing rubbish the locals have left behind.  We hate seeing rubbish left lying around, particularly when there are rubbish bins available within easy walking distances.

Alan (and I) collecting rubbish left over from other campers in Greece

What’s The Scariest Thing About Travelling Full Time?

The fact that we may not want to stop and we could find ourselves nomadic for many years to come.

The thought that something might come along and stop us travelling forever, before we are ready to stop is scary.

The concept that we might have to return to the real world one day and have ‘normal’ lives and jobs is downright petrifying.

We are often asked about how safe we feel wild camping in Europe and is it scary?  We have a routine to ensure that we are as safe as possible, which you can read about it by clicking here.

What On Earth Will We Do After Brexit?

Since we are from New Zealand, Brexit doesn’t affect us.  And as Alan has an Irish passport, we both travel freely together throughout Europe as mentioned earlier.

On that note, Alan spent months researching the legalities of Schengen and has put together a comprehensive blog that includes correspondence to the different embassies and the actual documentation that we travel under.  For Kiwis and Australians travelling to Europe this is worth a read.

Even if you are from the UK, you might find this blog well worth reading.  You could even find that there are some loopholes that allow you to travel long-term in Europe post Brexit.

The Schengen Countries (click to enlarge)

Are You Satisfied With Your Motorhome?  What Attributes / Accessories Do You Wish You Had?  What Could You Do Without?  What Gear Is Necessary?  

I expect that what we think is necessary, others might think of as a luxury or totally unimportant.

However, we believe we have the perfect setup for our long-term travel and have thought long and hard about what we believe we should carry or have on board. For example, we wouldn’t be without our solar panels. 

We are self-confessed power hungry travellers.  We need power for our laptop computers, phones, electric toothbrushes, TV, blender and other appliances.  So making the decision to install two solar panels, a large inverter, and an extra leisure battery came quite easy.

Other things we wouldn’t be without are our electric bikes.  Given Betsy’s size, we cannot always park near the city or town centre, so we find a parking spot outside and use the bikes to explore.  That way we get some exercise and have easy freedom of movement to sightsee.

The only item that we thought we needed but don’t have is a gas oven.  This was supposed to be installed but for various reasons that never happened.  It’s a long story, however, we have ended up with an Omnia stovetop oven and thankfully it’s lightweight, easy to store, and can do about 90% of what a full sized, heavy and expensive gas oven does.

We purchased a microwave/convection oven at the beginning of our travels because the oven we ordered hadn’t been installed.  We only ditched it about six weeks ago after lumping its weight around for nearly two years.  The occasional use didn’t justify the weight and space it took up.

Oh and I nearly forgot.  One thing we had fitted was an external gas point so we could BBQ outside.  After having used the BBQ once only, we gave it away.  I don’t know why we thought this was necessary because we never BBQ’d at home (I hope I’m not going to lose my Kiwi citizenship by admitting to this fact).

If you would like to know how we have achieved the perfect set-up, have a read of our blog

Our Omnia Oven

Do I Miss A Bath?

One of the all-time luxuries for me is to have a bath and yes I do miss this.

Therefore if we are staying with friends who have a bath we will ask to use it.

Or if we are planning a stay in an AirBnB or a hotel, a bath is the first criteria we look for.

Our hotel in Russia only had two rooms available with a bath and we requested and were given one of these. 

Likewise, when staying in Tuscany recently, all of the AirBnB’s we stayed in had a bath.

Sometimes big sacrifices need to be made to enjoy the bigger picture.  This is one.

Why Did You Leave Me Behind?

I’m happy to share the secrets of how anyone can have the same lifestyle as we do. In fact, it’s not a secret at all, it’s dedication and hard work. It starts out by having a desire to want something different in life.  And wanting it badly enough that you will sacrifice the here and now for something in your future.  We call it delayed gratification.

Interestingly it is, in fact, cheaper for us to live on the road than to live in our home back in New Zealand.  True story.

Okay, we don’t have some of the ‘things’ around us that we would have at home but it’s all a matter of choice.  Imagine living rent-free, with no water or power bills.  Imagine being able to go into shops and not be tempted to buy anything – because you just don’t have room to store it.  Life on the road can be quite low cost.

So here’s how you can achieve this lifestyle too.

Start with a plan.  Work out when you want to travel, what you’re willing to give up to get it, and then work out how much it will cost.  It doesn’t matter if it takes you ten or twenty years to achieve it (providing time is on your side).  What matters is that you have a goal, break the goal down into manageable pieces, and then start a plan towards achieving your goals.

Most people will give up because it’s too hard, then look at others thinking how lucky they are.  Luck has nothing to do with it, plan, plan, and plan!

We have met lots of people on the road who have in fact put a plan in place and then executed it. 

If you want to read a blog of someone who has a very similar story to ours, then take a read here

What is that saying, if you can visualise it, you can achieve it!

Has It Changed Your Views About Climate Change And Recycling And Plastic Usage?

We have seen first hand how damaging plastic usage is to the environment.

We made a conscious decision to try and avoid drinking water from plastic bottles and use our water tank for all our water needs.  We have reusable bags for carrying groceries so very rarely need to use plastic shopping bags.

When in Morocco recently we were thrilled to hear and see that plastic bag usage has been (largely) abolished.  They need to go one step further with plastic drinking bottles as these are an eyesore.

In Scandinavia, the recycling of cans and bottles (plastic and glass) is encouraged financially.  When you buy products in these containers, a deposit is added to the purchase price.  People turn up with bag loads of bottles, feed them into a machine located at the entrance of each supermarket, and receive a credit for their deposits.

Sweden has one of the lowest footprints in the world in terms of its refuse.  In fact, Sweden is so good at recycling that, for several years, it has imported rubbish from other countries to keep its recycling plants going.  Less than one per cent of Swedish household waste has been sent to landfill since 2011.

In order to answer the question about climate change, I don’t think that travelling for just two years to only 26 countries is long enough to form an opinion about such an important issue.  I will leave this one for the experts.

Rubbish is a sad fact of life, especially in Palermo, Sicily, Italy

Do You Miss A Permanent Home?

Yes and no.

We do have a permanent home in Auckland, New Zealand, which is rented out.

What I miss (apart from the bath) is having a garden where I can grow and then harvest fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables.  I do know of some motorhomers who have set up small herb gardens in their vans though.

I don’t miss the maintenance, however, like mowing lawns, trimming hedges, painting houses.

There is some comfort in knowing that our house will always be there when or if we return.

The advantages of living in a mobile home seriously outweighs any desire to be in a permanent home at this stage.

Are You Happy?

In a word, YES!

We sometimes have to pinch ourselves to make sure that where we are is real.  We look back on some of our photos and can’t believe we’ve been to so many wonderful places, seen so much, had lots of different experiences and met so many amazing people.

I do miss my family and friends back home and do my best to keep in touch through social media, phone calls, and I even write postcards occasionally (particularly to my elderly father who isn’t online).

Where Do You Go When You Have A Fight?

I am lucky to be travelling with my soul mate and we just don’t fight.  The key to this, I believe, is due to clear communication.

That doesn’t mean we always agree with each other.  Sometimes we have opposing opinions, but it doesn’t get to the point of fighting, as we know to allow space and let the other person have their own opinions that differ from ours.  We accept this.

As a life coach, in my previous life, I specialised in relationships and I used personality profiling and NLP techniques as tools to help couples understand themselves, as well as each other.  Learning to communicate in your partner’s value system will provide a more harmonious life.

I often taught people how to identify the VAK communication style.  People have a preference for how they see the world, either visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic (feeling).  Understanding your partner’s style this can go a long way to improving communication.

To find out more information about this you are welcome to contact me, free of charge and I can explain more.

If you are contemplating travelling full-time with your partner and you argue a lot, disagree a lot and frequently need your own space and time, then maybe you should think again.

What Was The Inspiration / Catalyst For Travel?

Initially, the inspiration was to celebrate my 50th birthday in Venice enjoying a gondola ride with my husband.  This had been an eight-year dream, one we talked about regularly.  I visualised every part of that day and it turned out perfectly.

Another catalyst for me was to tick off a bucket list item.  I’ve always wanted to learn a foreign language and knowing myself I felt I should live in a country and surround myself with that language. 

While travelling we’ve been learning Italian and Spanish (and French for Alan) and have just recently decided that Spanish will be the language of choice.

We plan to spend more time in Spain so I can attend language classes and delve deeper into achieving my goal.

Do You Feel Divorced From Society And If So, How Do You Counter It, Without The Use Of Social Media?

I think our ‘society’ has shifted.

I don’t feel divorced from what others would consider as society, but have made a new society, being the motorhome community, which is very large in Europe. There is often someone you can talk with who understands your lifestyle choice.  Social media is certainly a big part of this.

We also make an effort to engage in conversations with other motorhomers wherever we park.  We particularly like to see those motorhomes with GB (English), NL (Netherlands) and/or D (Germany) registration plates, as we are usually guaranteed an English conversation.

Food is something that brings us together.

As mentioned we like to cook and share food with others.  Occasionally I will cut up some fruit and hand around the platter for others to enjoy, or share cake or cookies.  If it’s cold outside, we invite people in for a drink (usually BYO).  Food is friendship.

In Finland last year we turned up at a free parking spot with about 10-12 other vehicles.  It was cold and getting dark and I knocked on the door of everyone inviting them over for a drink and conversation after dinner.  Not everyone came (thankfully as Betsy would have struggled) but those who came enjoyed themselves (at least we think they did).

As we don’t have English TV channels on our TV (our choice) and we can’t read local newspapers, we are often behind in hearing about world events.  But guess what?  It doesn’t matter.  Most of the news is bad news anyway and us not knowing it isn’t going to affect anything one way or the other.  If it’s important someone will let us know.

How Do Friends And Family React To Your Choice Of Van Life?

For the most part, our family tells us to enjoy it while we can.

They know how hard we worked to get this far and are encouraging of our lifestyle choice.

My parents-in-law travelled a similar route in the 1950’s and it’s fun sharing our locations with them via Skype.  Sometimes my mother-in-law will pull out her diary and read paragraphs from the same location as we are in.  It’s amusing when they ask if the same bar or store is still on the corner.

We know van life isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but we are sure our friends are happy for us.  

What’s The Most Common Question You Get Asked?

Three things;

1. How can you be retired so young? A: Planning.

2.  Did you win lotto? A: No.

3.  How much does it cost?  A: Not as much as you expect (see our earlier answer about costs). 

We Donated A Kiwi Tea Towel To The Boomerang Cafe In Turkey

If You Wash Your Underwear…How Can You Dry It On The Go, Or Outside Without Arousing Unwanted Attention?

We have our own washing machine, just a little thing we bought from Amazon, which is fantastic.  And actually, my husband does all the washing and given we mainly wild camp we find spots where hanging out washing won’t be a problem. We pick our spots carefully to not offend others or attract attention from the police (hanging out the washing is seen as ‘camping behaviour’ and banned in many areas). As long as we have a water supply close by, and sun to supply power to our batteries (and dry the clothes), we can wash everything without needing a laundromat. They can be expensive in Europe.

Do You Ever Miss Sitting On A Proper Toilet?

It’s not something I’ve really thought about.

While travelling we’ve noticed the toilets throughout Europe are all different.  I think I could write a book on toilets alone!

That said, it’s funny how many times when I sit on a normal toilet that I find myself reaching down as though I have to open the hatch.

The toilet in Betsy is very comfortable and the toilet space is relatively generous, so no I don’t miss a proper toilet.  Thanks for asking, Andy Spencer.

How Do You Decide Where To Go?

We have a loose plan of where we want to travel.

Typically we follow the birds and travel north for the summer, thereby avoiding the sweltering summer heat, and then south for the winter trying to avoid the cold and snow.  We don’t carry winter tyres or chains so this restricts our time in certain countries where there are legal obligations about chains and tyres.

We use a very good app called Park4Night to find suitable stopping points for the night.  We are often attracted to the coast or lakes (we are water people) and oftentimes other travellers tell us places we should not miss.

Our travels are fairly fluid, meaning we can chop and change on a whim.  We can stay longer or move on should we wish.

Where Did You Buy Your Motorhome?

We bought Betsy from a motorhome dealer in France, located not far from Paris.

She was built in Italy and we collected her, brand new, from Genola, a small town in northern Italy.  Betsy has French registration, an Italian flag in the logo, and New Zealand decals on her.  That confuses people but typically we will have people say bonjour to us. 

Alan speaks a little French so he converses until they realise we are English speaking.

The process we used to select and purchase a French registered vehicle without actually having a French address can be found by clicking here.

Betsy’s photo of us Wild Camping on Lemon Beach in Greece is on a 2019 calendar

Do You Miss Having A Connection With The Same People Regularly? For Example The Mail Person, The Grocery Store Clerk, Familiar Faces?

Having been away from our home country, New Zealand for ten years, we are used to not having that connection so this feels quite normal for us.

Having said that, when staying in one spot in Istanbul for four weeks we began to feel like locals and were soon recognised by the local shopkeepers. 

That was a nice feeling.

We hope in future years to spend much longer spells in one spot and feel part of a local community.

The service type person I miss the most is my hairdresser.  I hate having to find a new hairdresser in different countries.  They do their best but it’s often hit and miss whether I get a good haircut or not.  Although you know the difference between a good and bad haircut, don’t you?  Two weeks!

While living in Perth, Western Australia, we didn’t really connect with our locals like folk do in English villages.  I envy the English for having that special connection with their local greengrocer, etc.

Do You Miss Not Being Able To Do The Conga During New Years Celebrations With The Neighbours?

I might have to come to the UK for New Years Celebrations to experience the Conga – that’s a new one on me.

When living in New Zealand we had a street party each year on Guy Fawkes night and I was named ‘Little Lucifer’ for my interest in pyrotechnics.  I miss those times for sure.

What Contingency Plans Do You Have Should…

1 – your vehicle get damaged

We would get it fixed and take temporary accommodation if necessary – we have a four-year mechanical warranty on the vehicle from Renault and insurance that will pay for accommodation while accident repairs are carried out.  We had this happen recently and stayed in AirBnB for a couple of weeks while Betsy was getting some love and attention from the manufacturer.

2 – your partner is taken ill or dies?

We have both been sick and just stay put until we feel better.  We have travel insurance that will repatriate us to New Zealand if there is a major medical problem.  We’ve talked about what would happen if one of us dies.  You never really know until the time comes, but if I were the surviving partner, I would relocate back to New Zealand.

3 – the money runs out?

We have insurance to cover us for big costs that would affect our savings.  We watch our money carefully and live within our means so that it doesn’t or shouldn’t run out.  However, if that did happen, we would go back home and get jobs.  We are both in our early fifties and are university educated with good corporate skills.  Let’s hope the New Zealand economy stays strong, just in case.

 

How Do People “Survive” With No Fresh Water Supply?

When travelling full time and free camping in a motorhome you have to be very mindful about fresh water supplies.

You have become very good at foraging for water and it is everywhere if you know where to look.  Motorhome service points, public water taps/fountains, beach taps, service stations, friendly people or businesses, cemeteries, streams…. there are many options.

Sicily was the most difficult place to find water as most of the public fountains had been disconnected to save money (we think).  One of the few times we had an issue trying to find fresh water was in a place called Aqua Dulce.  This literally translates to sweet water, only there wasn’t any.  We found a cemetery on the outskirts of town and topped up there.

We carry 100 litres of water in our tank, which with mindful usage, lasts for about 3-4 days.  This includes a daily shower, cooking, and washing dishes.  It doesn’t include laundry usage.

We carry an additional 20 litres in containers in our garage and we use a funnel to empty these into the tank. Our spare water containers can be carried on our electric bikes, and on many occasions, these have been used to ferry water back to Betsy from public water supplies which have been up to 2 km away.

The Park4Night app we use identifies many locations with available water so we look ahead and top up.  French Aires always have water

Once in Greece we asked for water from a tap located outside a Taverna and paid €5. Camping grounds have water but we haven’t yet needed them as they usually want you to stay the night (quite reasonable really) if you want to use their services.

Fortunately, the great majority of water in Europe is safe and good to drink. 

However before filling our main tank we will taste the water and even make a cup of tea with it.  If it passes the taste test, we fill up.  The water goes through one filter before reaching the tank and there is a second filter after the water pump. 

We have been caught out a few times with poor quality drinking water.

That’s all folks.

So these are the questions you’ve asked and I hope the answers have satisfied your curiosity.   If you have any other questions, please feel free to leave a comment below and I will do my best to answer them.

Safe travels if you are on the road and you see us please toot or come over for a cuppa (or vino).

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Related Posts You Might Find Interesting
24 Months Costs of Travelling Full-Time In A Motorhome Around Europe

24 Months Costs of Travelling Full-Time In A Motorhome Around Europe

Introduction

I’ve been asked what does it cost to live a lifestyle of travelling full-time through Europe in a Motorhome.  So, what better way to answer this than to show you all our costs.

It’s often not as expensive as people expect and you will see by our figures that the further we travel the cheaper it has become.

There are two reasons for this.

1.  During the last six months, we spent nine weeks in Morocco where the cost of living was low.

2.  Everything we need to set up our motorhome has now been purchased.

We have travelled 39,226 km to and around 41 countries, 26 of them unique, in two years.

All Our Costs Revealed

All figures are in Euros

Here is what the weekly average costs across 24 months looks like in a chart format.  Starting from the largest expense being groceries (in blue), follow the graph clockwise, ie diesel is next in red, eating out next in green, etc.

The following costs are excluded from the above figures:
* Insurances (for our Motorhome, Healthcare, Travel and Personal Insurances, eg Life, Trauma, etc)
* Setting up costs, eg cups, plates, linen, blankets, etc basically everything that we needed to live in a motorhome.
* Extra-ordinary Maintenance on the motorhome. Our first and second year habitation inspection costs are included.

We haven’t incurred MOT expenses as yet as we purchased Betsy new and only need a MOT after she turns four in 2021, and then only need a MOT every second year (she is French registered).

Betsy Juice (Diesel for our motorhome)

Our running costs continue to be fairly consistent with our fuel economy based on the odometer, and actual diesel purchased, working out at around 10.45 l/100km or 27 mpg.  The Renault on-board computer reported us running around 9.6 l/100km (close to 30 mpg) so I don’t know which one to believe.  The low diesel costs in Morocco helped to keep our fuel bill down to a respectable level although travelling through Portugal, France and Italy bumped it up again.

Total Cost for Diesel € 5,096
Average Cost per Litre €1.24
Average cost per km € 0.1265
Average Miles Per Gallon27.01
Total Kilometres traveled 39,226
Average Litres/100kms
10.45
Total Litres consumed
4,101

If you happen to notice the difference in diesel costs recorded here against our cost above, then well done.  The difference relates to driving two different vehicles, ie while in Tuscany when we had a second motorhome.  Therefore we didn’t include these costs for Betsy, but they must be recorded as an expense.

Accommodation

Below is a look at the split in accommodation costs.  In 24 months (730 nights away) we have stayed in 369 different places.  That’s like saying we had 369 homes during this time! 

Of these 74% were wild camping (free of cost), 12% were spent in camping grounds, 11% in camper parking and 3% in AirBnB accommodation.

The nine weeks of staying in Morocco has pushed up the camping ground usage (and reduced our wild camping figures).  Thankfully the cost of staying in camping grounds in Morocco is very reasonable.   

Moroccan Goats Interested In Betsy

Cittadella a Hidden Gem in Northern Italy

Cittadella a Hidden Gem in Northern Italy

by Ruth Murdoch  |  June 2019  |  Italy

What a gem we found by pure chance.  I pointed to a place on the map that would conclude today’s driving and found a free parking spot that just happened to be nearby a town wall.  Getting that close to an Italian old town is something of a miracle in Betsy, our Motorhome, with her 7.5 metre (plus bikes) length.

Cittadella has Europe’s best-preserved medieval parapet walkway that allows you to traverse its nearly two-kilometre loop.

We unassumingly walked into the local Tourism office to check out the local surroundings, only to discover this was the start of the parapet walkway.

The walls are 1461 metres in circumference, 14 metres high, with 30 metre high keeps.  On average the walls are 2.1 metres thick.

An elderly Italian lady in front of me was not confident to walk out onto the walkway and look down.  I suspect she suffered from vertigo.  However, with her family who had already scarpered and another group coming up from the rear, she had no option other than to keep moving forward.

There are four gates that enter the town and twelve towers looking both inwards to the residents and outwards to anyone wishing to lay siege to this town.  One family succeeded and an invading family occupied Cittadella for 30 years.

Today the city of 36km2 and which was founded in 1220, has a population of just 20,000.  The houses and grounds are immaculately kept which surely must be more than a coincidence. 

Beautifully manicured private back yards from the residents of Cittadella

At the halfway mark there is a Siege Museum and a Civic Archaeological Museum.  The €5 cost of walking around the parapet includes access to both museums, but don’t throw your tickets away as you will need to show them to gain access here.

There is also a panoramic viewing platform at the halfway point, which offers unobstructed views of the beautiful mountains, vineyards, and countryside, as well as the town buildings.  We tried to capture as much of this scenery as possible.

The Walls Surrounding Cittadella

See how far the wall extends

Looking back to the start of the walk

I often marvel at the engineering from so many years ago.  The walls have virtually no foundations and are shored up only by embankments made from the excavation of the surrounding moat.  Initially, the gates and the moat were made out of wood and earth.  Only later was the entire complex rebuilt in stone.

The moat runs all around the walls and is fed by spring water.  From the walkway we could see large fish, probably carp, enjoying the flowing water entering the moat laying in wait for morsels to feed upon.

It’s June and already the high season so where are the crowds to spoil our photos?  I don’t know how many tourists maps Cittadella is featured on, but if you are in the area then do pop in.

We were amused to come across a small café called Motueka, which is a quaint town in New Zealand’s south island.  Unfortunately, Moteuka was closed so we couldn’t find out how a little north Italian walled town ended up with a café from New Zealand origins.

Why Were You Closed Motueka?

A bird’s eye view gives us an unusual aspect from which to take photos.  These two sculptures adorn the grounds of Cittadella.
The Andrea Mantegna Town Hall hosts a number of events and we watched as another was being set up.  This new hall is a symbol of the town’s modern architecture but is also a historic building since it once contained the elementary school and was dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II.
The Andrea Mantegna Town Hall
The Ronda Walkway is open in summer (1st April to 31st October) from Monday to Friday 9am to 1pm, then 2-6pm.  On Saturday and Sunday the times are 9am to 7pm.  For more information visit http://turismo.comune.dittadella.pd.it.

Ruth donning traditional clothing from Cittadella

Alan would have made a brave knight

For information regarding the history here’s some further reading.

Photo taken from a brochure

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Truffle Hunting and Wine Tasting in Tuscany

Truffle Hunting and Wine Tasting in Tuscany

by Ruth Murdoch  |  May 2019  |  Italy

Table of Contents

There are several places in Tuscany to go truffle hunting, for us it was in Ulignano, a small grape growing area within the Province of Siena.
Happy is not a strong enough word to describe how we are feeling after such an amazing experience of truffle hunting, wine tasting and local produce eating in Tuscany today.

Another bucket list item ticked off, although I’m not sure once is enough.

We have some time to while away in Tuscany of all places, as our motorhome, affectionately known as Betsy, is placed into the hands of a Rimor repair workshop in Poggibonsi.

What a place to be delayed before making our way further north towards Hungary and Poland.

“So what is there to do in this region?” we wondered.

Visit castles and towns around the area are on the list and there’s the world famous culinary treat of going truffle hunting in Tuscany.

So as self-confessed foodies we partook in this regional pastime.

Here’s How Our Day Unfolded

We turned up early to Tenuta Toscanini (a proudly family-run winery established in 1720), for an 11am truffle hunt.

So what happens when one arrives at a winery early in Tuscany? They’re rewarded with a friendly welcome by an Italian chap who speaks good English. “Buongiorno, como sta” I said (good day, how are you?). ‘Oh, you speak Italian? was his enthusiastic reply.  “No” was my sad return.  “Solo un piccolo”, (only a little).  I guess it was enough to impress.

“Please sit, (said our new friend), while I find you a wine, do you drink white or red?” “Bianco, grazie” (white, thanks) was my eager reply while looking down at my watch which said 10.45am.  Gosh I love this civilised country.

Two giant glasses and a full bottle of Torciano Vernaccia Di, their signature in-house white wine arrived in front of us.  Our truffle hunters turned up at 11.20am, twenty minutes late.  I’m not sure if that was to give us time to make a serious dent on the wine bottle, or if they were just running late.   Oh well, no harm no foul.

Early Morning Truffle Hunting Wine!

Learning About Truffles

Truffles, which are affectionately known as ‘diamonds of the kitchen’ or ‘golden mushrooms’, come in two main types, white and black.  Within these two types there are about 30 different varieties, however, only a handful are edible.  They lurk under the ground at varying depths and even the trained dogs sometimes get it wrong.

White Truffles

White truffles are found anywhere up to half a metre below the ground and are hunted from September through to December.   The season is regulated by the Italian Government to ensure the long-term sustainability and quality of these diamonds (and no doubt keep the price up).

In 2016 only one kilogram of white truffle was found in the area of San Gimignano near where we are today, while in 2018 eight kilos were discovered.  Thinking back to my university economics class of supply and demand it’s pretty obvious to guess what’s about to come next.

White truffles typically sell for €7,000 per kilo.  A lack of viable truffles increases the demand and a low supply equals, you guessed it, a high price tag.

In 2018 a single truffle was unearthed weighing in at 2.1 kilos and fetched a price of €40,000.  The exceptional price was apparently due to the quality and the unusually large size.

The white truffles do not need to be cooked first before eating them but can simply be shaved thinly on top of the food.  Our lovely guide and English translator Andriano is the nephew of the current winery owner.  He excitedly told us that the addition of truffle to the food turns the worst chef in the world into the best chef.

The Seasons

The government manages the short white truffle season, from September to December.   The season, for black truffles in this region, is from April to May and lasting through to August.  There are some other varieties which can be found all year round.

The most discerning of foodies appear to prefer the scent and flavour of the white truffle.  That’s why Tuscany is flooded with buyers from all around the world during the winter truffle festival, happy to part with their euros for these elusive morsels.

We had to laugh when our truffle hunters told us that while hunting for white truffles in the forest you have NO! friends.  Although this is no laughing matter.  These hunters are serious.  They each have their own secret hunting spots and with limited time available and a license in their back pocket they can often be found before daybreak deep in the forest far away from prying eyes.

 

Today’s Black Truffles

Thankfully today our hunting is a lot friendlier than the serious business of white truffle hunting.  We’re in pursuit of black truffles and the conditions are near perfect.  A cool period with a lot of rain makes for good growing conditions because after all, truffles are a species of fungus and they like the same conditions as mushrooms.  The last few days of warm weather encourages the aroma of the truffles to permeate up through the ground, which makes them easier for the dogs to sniff out.

The variety we expect to find is called a summer truffle or scorzone which has a black rind and yellowish (bordering on white) pulp.  We could see the white colour when one of the dogs bit into a truffle exposing the white inside.

The White Insides Of The Black Truffles

The Use Of Pigs

We had heard of pigs being used for truffle hunting and just assumed that dogs were now used as an alternative or personal preference.

Although pigs can smell out a truffle at far greater depths than a dog, they root up a much large area of ground when digging down to it and cause serious damage to the fragile ecosystem that supports truffle growth and reproduction.  The increased demand for truffles in the late 1970’s led to a greater use of hunting pigs.  This almost collapsed the industry.  In 1985, a law was passed banning the use of pigs outside of specific competitions and demonstrations.

We are also told that using pigs is dangerous for the hunters because pigs really, really like to eat truffles.  When the hunters try to remove their find from the pig’s mouth they may extract their hand minus a finger or two.  Dogs also love eating truffles but can be persuaded or trained to give them up for a small reward.

About the Dogs

The bred primarily used in Italy is called Lagotto Romagnolo, which means “little lakes of northern Italy”.  Originally this breed was used to retrieve hunters’ kill from the water.  They are known as being fun, friendly dogs and good pets.  Their coat is normally as woolly as a sheep but ours had recently been shorn smooth.

The Italians will tell you this is the only breed to use, but according to the English and French truffle hunters, any dog can be trained. 

How Are The Dogs Trained? 

From the moment the dogs are born truffle oil is placed on their mum’s teats and they are also fed truffles.  I wonder if that’s where the expression lucky dog comes from.  This ensures that the smell and taste are ingrained from day one.  It takes four to five intensive months to train a puppy and they hunt with their mums during this time.

A game is played with the puppies as they grow. A small truffle is placed in a scent container, which is perforated with tiny holes to allow the scent to escape.  This is hidden around the grounds and the dogs are encouraged to hunt it out.  The reward for their find comes in the form of a doggie treat.  Our dogs also received small truffles as rewards, leaving us salivating and thinking lucky dogs.

The container used to train the dogs

Where to Find Truffles in Tuscany 

There are many options for where to go truffle hunting, however, be warned as the price can be steep and you don’t get to keep the bounty.  Typically, you join the hunters and their dogs for an hour or more of foraging then enjoy a lunch or dinner that (as you would expect) shows off the flavour of the truffle.

Truffles are known to grow in and around certain trees, the main ones being poplar and oak trees.  However, lime, chestnut, willow and pine trees can also support truffles.  The truffle, is actually the fruit of the fungi which grows on the roots of the trees in a mutualistic relationship, meaning that both the truffles and the trees benefit from them growing there.

Hunting for black truffles today was not in an open forest as we expected but instead in a cultivated and neatly planted oak grove in Ulignano, in the Province of Siena.  This plantation was at the back of the Torciano Winery’s vineyard.   growing on a large flat paddock where one would typically expect to see grapevines.  The oak trees were planted in neat rows evenly spaced apart and watered with truffle-spore-infused water to give the precious earthly diamonds a helping hand.

Equipment Used

Aiding the truffle hunters, apart from the trained dogs, is a small hoe with a short thin handle called a vanghetto.  This helps to dig the truffles out from the ground once the dogs have located them.  However I noticed when a large truffle was found the hands were the instrument of choice.

The Biggest Truffle Of The Season (so far)

Within just one hour of hunting, we (or should I say the dogs) had discovered quite the haul.  Not only had we collectively found the most truffles in an hour, our allotted time, but we also were credited with finding the biggest truffle of the season.  At an estimated 200 grams, we were delighted to be considered good luck on such a successful hunt.

An Estimated 200-gram Truffle Bought Smiles All Round

Wine Tasting & Delicious Lunch

After an enjoyable hour of hunting and gathering, which I could have continued for much longer, it was time to indulge in some wine tasting and food pairing.

Walking into the restaurant we were greeted by a table filled with umpteen glasses and bottles of wines all lined up waiting to be enjoyed.

An Impressive Amount of Glassware & Bottles

How Ever Will We Cope?

Andriano, our interpreter for the truffle hunt was also our wine instructor and waiter.  Every plate of food brought out was paired beautifully with different wines.  My favourite dish was the lasagna, the likes of which I’d never had before, despite making lasagna regularly.  This was heavy on pasta and béchamel sauce with just a sprinkling of meat throughout.  Of course, it was topped off with shaved cooked truffle.  It was utterly delicious, particularly when paired with a beautiful red wine.  As a dedicated white wine drinker, it was very unusual for me to be enjoying red wine so much.  I’m not a convert, however.

Delicious Italian Lasagna With Truffles

We learnt how to taste a wine by first swirling it in the glass to aerate before taking a generous sip.  You then suck in some air through your teeth and slosh the wine around all parts of your mouth.  The sucking in of air and swirling around in the mouth are repeated three times, before finally swallowing.  It’s true that you get a different flavour after doing this.  It’s not something I would do around my friends as they’d just laugh at me.

This vineyard specialises in red wines, and we were presented with seven different wines and told about how each was made.  There was so much passion from Andriano about the wines.  He tenderly held each bottle while sharing their story as if they were his own creation.

All of the red wines made here use the Sangiovese grape as their main component.  This is then blended with other varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce their liquid masterpieces.  The Sangiovese is an ancient grape with its origins dating back to Roman times.  Andriano called it the ‘mother grape’ from which all other grape varieties were bred.

Other Culinary Delights

Apart from wine, Toricano Winery also sells their own balsamic vinegar.  Their grapes are sent away to the Modena region of Italy to be made into this delectable black liquid, and then returned to the cellar door for selling.  The truffle oil we enjoyed with our meal was also available for purchasing.

By acquiring a bottle of truffle oil and balsamic vinegar we thought this would give us a great deal of culinary pleasure and last much longer than a bottle of wine.

Other Interesting Facts

1.     A truffle needs to be at least five months old before it is ready for harvest

2.     If the truffle is too young, they are returned to the ground however the dogs will usually only smell out ones that are ripe

3.     The white truffles are typically sold to Italian buyers, whereas the black truffles are sold worldwide

4.     For more information including how to become a truffle hunter, which is no small feat, click here.

5.     DOCG means Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and this highest classification on a wine bottle label guarantees the source of the grapes, the controlled production methods and wine quality of each bottle.

6.     Tenuta Toscanini makes three of their wines under the IGT (Indicazione Geografica Tipica) classification which allows the winemaker more freedom in how they blend and produce the wines.  These wines are delicious and can only be purchased directly from the winery.

7.     If you are keen to try your hand at truffle hunting then enjoy a delicious lunch, including truffles and truffle oil, the place to go is Toricano Winery.  All details including pricing can be found here. 

Our First Truffle

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Week 8 in Morocco

Week 8 in Morocco

by Ruth Murdoch |  March 2019  |  Morocco, Africa

Table of Contents

MAP

Week 8 saw us driving over 400 kilometres from Ouzoud Falls, through Khenifra then on to Meknes before checking out Volubilis and starting out way back up north.  Click to enlarge map.

This week we enjoy the stunning scenery of Ouzoud Falls, a rare sight in Morocco, before enjoying the township of Meknes (a must see town) and then wander through the ancient Roman Ruins at Volubilis.

Day 50; Ouzoud, Monday 18 March 2019

After an uneventful trip from Marrakech, where we couldn’t wait to escape, we arrived into the peaceful tranquillity of Ouzoud that became home base for the next three days.

Before moving on, I would like to explain why we didn’t like Marrakech and why we wouldn’t return.

I was really looking forward to this city with its reputation for vibrancy, liveliness, and interesting culture.  I had even considered that we could hang out there for several days and soak up all Marrakech had to offer us until we felt good and ready to leave.  I really wanted this to be an awesome experience.

However, it wasn’t to be.

What we found instead was a dirty city, overrun with beggars, over-enthusiastic shop keepers who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and countless other touts who relentlessly hassled us, trying to squeeze money from us.

I was upset by the cruelty shown towards animals such as the monkeys and snakes being exploited to sell photo opportunities to the tourists.

I understand that people are simply just doing the best they can with what they have to make a living, and get a few dirhams selling whatever they have that someone might want to pay for.  But for this introverted traveller it was just too much and too overwhelming. 

For my pick of the cities in Morocco that we visited, I have my heart in Fantastic Fes.

This little fella was forever pulling on the chain around his neck

Souks – The Place for Fresh Fruit and Veggies

Day 51; Ouzoud, Tuesday 19 March 2019

Today we jump on our trusty electric bikes and headed towards the local souk.  This is the biggest and most authentic souk we have seen yet. 

Find out what delights we bought…

Dozens and dozens of donkeys, mules and some horses are parked up in the adjacent fields like we would park our cars outside a supermarket.  The souk itself is being hosted in a paddock underneath tents and tarpaulins with blue skies above and rolling mountains standing watch in the background.

Donkeys Waiting Patiently For Their Owners To Return

A wander through the makeshift paths has us mesmerised by the amazing variety on offer.  Almonds, walnuts, eggs, live chicks barely a day or two old, clothes, spices galore (some unidentifiable), herbs, bright coloured material, vegetables of all colours, shapes, textures and of varying quality, clay tagines, pots and pans, couscous cookers, crockery, broken electronics, plasticware, sweets, dried legumes, dates, meat (both dead, such as goats and sheep, and soon to be dead chickens) and grains for the animals are just some of the treasures and essentials on sale today.

The souk is not only an opportunity to buy food for the next week, but it is also the time to catch up with friends from neighbouring villages or chew the fat with fellow stall vendors.

Just walking around the souk is fascinating and a full shopping list enhances our visit.

Although we find that we are normally charged a fair price, it’s not a bad idea to do some price checking between vendors because it is not uncommon to be charged ‘tourist’ rather than ‘local’ prices.

Today our pleasure is heightened when I spy some fennel seeds, which are freshly ground for me.  Walnuts are also on my list and one seller has the best I’ve come across so far – unbroken, large and fresh.

Souks are easily the best place to buy vegetables, especially the ones in season.  Once you know what is going to be available, you then find tasty meals to hero those fresh ingredients. 

How To Buy Veggies In The Souk

The process of buying vegetables in a souk is totally different from what we are used to.  First, take one of the low sided plastic bowls lying around (the least cracked and broken one you can find) and then put everything you want together into the bowl. Nothing is priced so it’s not possible to know the cost until the end.   Next hand the bowl over to the vendor, who will remove any higher priced products before placing it on some old-fashioned scales.  Weights are stacked on the other side of the scales until the weights over-balance the bowl.  The vendor then adds a few more items of his choosing to your bowl until they more or less balance.  Sometimes he may seek approval for his additions, but oftentimes not.

The process is then repeated for the higher priced items before the goodies are poured into a bag, money exchanged and you’re all set.  Just be aware that some of the more exotic products (e.g. pineapples) could be quite expensive so it is best to ask before loading them into your bowl.

In our experience of souks, the vendors are usually generous and give you more than you pay for, and the prices are very reasonable.  So, don’t worry if you don’t quite understand how it works, they do, and that’s all that matters.

Here’s the process of purchasing veggies and fruit in a souk

TIP: When making a purchase at a souk, be sure you know the prices before engaging.  That way you won’t feel like you’re being ripped off or you can bargain the price down to what you’re willing to pay.  So how do you know the prices?  Ask someone unrelated to the seller who, hopefully, speaks good English, what they would pay for the item you are interested in purchasing.

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The Souks Are Set Up In A Paddock

Buying Chickens

In my many years on earth, I’ve never seen a chook being plucked, until now.

Alert, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs to the title ‘dates’ if you have a squeamish composition, are vegetarian, or just don’t fancy knowing the cold hard facts of where meat (in this case chicken) comes from.

The chickens arrive at the souks alive and are stuffed into cramped cages.  The customers either ask for a certain weight of chook or just choose one from the cage.  The live chook is placed on the scales and weighed.  This sets the price you pay at the end of the process.

If you are having a chook butchered for you then expect to pay between 13 to 18 dirhams (€1.20-1.66 or NZ$1.97-$2.73) per kilo for the live weight.  If you want to buy one that has already been prepared then you pay more per kilogram because they are missing a few vital bits (legs, head, insides, etc).

We experienced a lot of variation in the asking prices and felt that some vendors were charging tourist prices.  We went from stall to stall until we found a price we thought was reasonable.

The chicken’s throat is then quickly, silently and without fuss, slit and the still kicking chook placed head first down into a makeshift funnel (an upside down re-used plastic bottle) so it can bleed out.  Then it is transferred into a drum of near boiling water (or outside of the souks they are placed into a plucking machine) for a few minutes.  This loosens the feathers, making plucking a quick task.  The butcher runs both hands down the carcass of the bird and the wet feathers literally fall out and onto the ground.

Once plucked, the butcher removes the wingtips, feet, head and organs and places the still warm chook into a plastic bag for the customer.

We couldn’t bring ourselves to condemn a chook that we had chosen, so opted instead to purchase one of the recently departed chickens already available.  There are no such luxuries here as fridges or ice, and with the temperatures in the low twenties, getting this meat back into our fridge became a priority.

Dates

Wherever you go in Morocco, where food is being sold, there will be someone selling dates.  Sometimes they will have just one type on offer, in other places, there may be a dozen or more.  The price depends on the quality, the size and where you are.

I’d recently purchased some dates in Marrakech after being offered samples to try.  Alas, when we arrived back at our motorhome we found that we had been slipped small, dry dates instead of the soft ones we had paid for at 60 dirhams (€5.53 or NZ$9.23).  Another example of why we didn’t like Marrakech.

Imagine my delight when the date seller at the Ozoud souk was selling the most succulent, soft and tasty dates for just 25 dirhams per kilo (€2.31 or NZ$3.80).  We loaded up on 2kg of these juicy treats and Alan sorted through the bags later to remove the live bees that had stowed away.

A Large Variety Of Dates To Choose From

YUMMY RECIPES

Coming back to our motorhome, Betsy, laden with two kilos of fresh dates and some yummy walnuts, it was time to put my thinking cap on and come up with some worthy recipes.

The first was a Walnut and Date Tealoaf that has been a favourite of ours for years.  Next was a quick and easy batch of Walnut and Date Balls (made with argan oil if you have it, but any oil will do).  This recipe has no added sugar, which means it’s healthy, right?  And thirdly I made the delicious delicacy called Amlou (also known as Swassa), a very popular dish originating from the Berbers of the southern region of Morocco.  This dish showcases their (and now my) favourite way to eat the superfood, argan oil.

If you want to know why argan oil is good for eating check out this blog.

Walnut & Date Tealoaf

Walnut & Date Balls

Amlou

Ouzoud Falls

Day 52; Ouzoud Falls, Wednesday 20 March 2019

The falls are not far from our camping spot, Zebra Camping Ouzoud (GPS coordinates 32.00531, -6.71998).  Later in the afternoon, once the hordes of tourists had departed, we jumped on our bikes and rode out to see the falls. 

TIP:  When a local says you can’t ride your bike to the falls and that you must park up in their parking area (and pay), just ignore them!  We rode right up to the falls and only had about five or six stairs to easily navigate.

Click on the right side of the picture below to see the gallery of photos

Meknes

Days 54 & 55, Friday 22 March & Saturday 23 March 2019 

We stayed at the guarded parking right outside the Medina.  While it wasn’t quiet (the road works started up at 11pm directly behind us), it was perfect for easy access to the Medina by foot. (GPS coordinates 33.89093, -5.56408)

The term ‘street art’ has been growing on me and has become somewhat of a filter.  A bit like when you buy a red Mazda, then you suddenly see red Mazda’s everywhere.  Street art is having that same effect on me and the more I travel the more I seem to notice this.

Meknes was no exception.  You can look at these works of art and wonder who drew them, what the inspiration was, and start to imagine the story behind both the artist and the painting.  I will let you make up your own stories to go along with these masterpieces.

Click on the right side of the picture below to see the gallery

New Foods To Try In Morocco

It surprises me that after fifty-something days travelling around Morocco we are still finding new and exciting foods to sample.  One such food, that might look relatively simple, is something we would call a giant crumpet.  In Morocco they are called Baghrir.  Super tasty smothered with fresh Moroccan butter and honey, you will want to try these for yourself. 

The next new taste on our ‘to eat’ list was Maakouda which is a delicious deep-fried combination of mashed potato, garlic, and spices.  Otherwise known as Moroccon potato doughnuts.
And the third food we had for the first time in Meknes was a sweet thin-layered pancake cum bread treat with chocolate and dates in between the layers.  I don’t know the name of this but it was tasty enough for a street food snack.

Dessert Street Food

Nougat and toffee with nuts are also popular sweet treats, not just for the locals and tourists alike but the bees can’t seem to get enough of them.

The sweet pastries here are very sweet, often coated in sugar syrup and stuffed with nuts.  Here’s one that looks like the borek (Turkish pastry), but called M’Hanncha in Morocco.  It’s stuffed full with almonds, walnuts, peanuts and dates all crushed together and then wrapped in a thin pastry (like filo) and rolled into a snail shape.  Next, they are coated with liquid sugar just because there aren’t already enough calories.

Leaving Meknes with fond memories and a determination to return for a longer stay, we head to the nearby township of Moulay Idriss and stayed at the guarded parking (GPS 34.05769, -5.5172).    

Volubilis – Ancient Roman Ruins

Day 56, Sunday, 24 March 2019

Who would expect to see Roman ruins in Morocco?  Not me, but here they are.  In fact, I was rather surprised to see this map showing the extent of the Roman occupation throughout Europe and Africa.

The Red Colour Shows Where The Romans Invaded, Which Was Far and Wide

Situated just 32kms north on Meknes, Volubilis was originally the Berber city considered to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mauretania.  The city overlooks fertile rolling hills that don’t have a Moroccan feel at all, in fact, they strongly remind me of the French countryside.  The Romans took over in the first century AD building many significant structures and developing it in the typical Roman style of the day.

The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 badly damaged many of these buildings, after which significant amounts of marble and stone were removed to build Meknes.  This is another of Morocco’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, listed for being “an exceptionally well-preserved example of a large Roman colonial town.”

The site is well known for the many mosaics decorating the floors of what would have been the houses of the well-to-do Romans.  The colour of some are still surprisingly vibrant and I learnt this is due to the minerals in the stones which are said to not fade under the harsh elements of the African sun, wind, or rain.

The entrance fee is 70 dirhams and had we arrived earlier in the day, I would have considered hiring a local guide to glean more historical information.

That said, however, the well-appointed museum at the beginning of the site provided a reasonable explanation of the ruins.  It’s well worth a visit if you are in the region.

Roman Ruins of Volubilis

Costs for Weeks 1 – 8

A low cost week as we were on our own and had previously stocked up in the souk with fresh fruit and veggies.

Our running average cost of living for a week in Morocco dropped to just over €200 (NZ$333 or £172).  Compare this to living in Norway where our average spend was €405 and Morocco is a cheap destination to while away the winter months. Oh and the weather is great.

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Tune in next week for our final week in Morocco (at least for this trip).  

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Fantastic Fes

Week 4

Week 7

Week 1

Week 5

Week 8

Week 2

Week 6

Week 9

Week 3

Argan Oil

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