The names of things…

A common quirk of campervan and motorhome owners is naming their vans. I resisted at first but Bev won me over and we took to calling our first van Voyager (the number plate ended ‘VYR’). For the new motorhome, we agreed straightaway on a name: Stargazer!

Mostly because it has a fantastic huge skylight window and we pictured ourselves sat snug and warm watching the stars slowly circling above, maybe the northern lights dancing.

But also after the song (and album) by the American songwriter and guitar player, Jesse Terry. We’ve seen Jesse a handful of times – he’s a genuinely lovely guy and one of a handful of successful independent musicians that have inspired and motivated me to make some changes in my life.

Here’s the official video for the song – filmed at an iconic North East location!

Then there’s this gem – a stripped back version with Alan Fish on acoustic guitar and some lovely bass guitar.

The song always gets me to the brink of tears as it makes me think of our oldest whippet Marra who has started to stare off into space for long periods. He had a mystery health issue a year or so ago, maybe a small stroke, and has really slowed down. Sometimes when he comes into a room, he’ll just stop as if he’s forgotten what he came for, and stare. Doggy Alzheimer’s, Bev thinks. We’ve had to really come to terms with losing him at some point. Like the lines in the song, maybe one day he will choose a different universe. Until then, I’m grateful for the chance to spend more time each day with him.

Anyway, after that, everything had to have a name. So, I give you…

Moonraker! Bev’s B’TWIN folding bike, for nipping to the shops for fresh croissants.

Mars Rover! A dog stroller/jogger so Marra doesn’t miss out on any adventures. He still loves a walk but starts to drag his back legs after a while. We put him in when he’s had enough, and before he scrapes his claws down till they bleed.

And for aquatic missions: Sunseeker! An inflatable Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP).

The Monte Carlo Affair…

…Which sounds a bit like a spy movie. Except they never show the bits where the secret agent has to take an elderly dependent with mobility issues around an iconic/cinematic location. Is Monaco wheelchair friendly? Is it worth a visit? Is it doable in a campervan? We found out.

First, a bit of Askew glossary: The ‘Franklin Index’ is a measure of ‘well-travelled-ness’ – the number of countries visited, divided by age in years. Inspired by the arctic explorer John Franklin and in part by his namesake Jon Franklin, who I worked with for a while and whose wife regularly used the same calculation to plan their holidays. A positive Franklin index, a score greater than 1, means you’ve visited more countries than your age in years. Whoo. We didn’t really travel a great deal until our late 20’s so a positive index would be a tough target but still, any opportunity to visit a new country is quite a draw.

So, the James Bond glamour and the chance to tick another country off made me want to try to visit Monaco seeing as we were passing so close as we moved from France to Italy. We googled ‘motorhome parking monaco’ and there was some older information about parking spaces without height restrictions at the stadium but nothing conclusive from more recent comments. The weather wasn’t great as we passed anyway, so we didn’t bother – I was already hatching a new scheme!

We were camping in Ventimiglia, a short hop into Italy. The train from Ventimiglia to Monaco takes 30 minutes, and the campsite was a 10 minute stroll from the station. That sounds a lot easier that struggling to find parking for the motorhome!

Rules on taking dogs – and taking an old dog in a fairly chunky stroller – on trains were a bit vague, it depends on the type of train, size of dog, etc. We can only try. We positioned Marra in his rover in clear view of the guy at the ticket office and asked for 2 adults, 2 dogs ‘andate e ritorno’ to Monaco. Puffing away on his e-cigarette, the guy obliged, with nothing to indicate any concerns. The dogs paid half the child fare, had their own ticket, which we stamped before boarding.

The train was at the platform so we legged it. No lift so a bit of a haul down the steps to the underpass and back up to the platform. On the train no problem as they had lots of space for bikes, but there were no cyclists on so we parked ourselves in there. Nothing but smiles and cooing from the (French) train guards.

I realised I didn’t know much about Monaco other than it has a Grand Prix, it’s small, expensive and glamorous and the casino was in a Bond film. I now know it is very steep – there are public elevators between levels; it has several districts, of which Monte Carlo is one; and, there are 3 main attractions: the Casino, the Aquarium and the Japanese Garden.

We hit a snag trying to leave the station – the rover wouldn’t fit through the doors to the lifts. We had to remove one wheel. I guess we are just a little bit wider than an average wheelchair! We found this to be the case all round the city, so we avoided all the lifts except one up out of the marina. Good exercise, pushing the rover! Apart from that, we had very little bother all day.

We took a circular route:

  • down the roads to a pedestrianised shopping area, where we stopped at Grubers for an excellent burger,
  • round to the marina, where they were setting up for the upcoming e-prix and where we ogled the yachts,
  • up to the Japanese garden, where we took turns to wander as dogs weren’t allowed,
  • round to the casino, again where we took turns to have a nosy inside,
  • through the posh shopping/hotel area, where we ogled the fancy cars,
  • then on back round to the station.

A grand day out! Wasn’t that sunny but we got a few pics.

Route Napoléon

We moved south through France, and started to climb into the foothills of the Alps. We kept seeing Route Napoléon signs everywhere. After about 3 days, we looked it up: It’s the path Napoléon took in 1815 on his way back from exile in Elba, to retake control of France before his final defeat at Waterloo. Nowadays it’s perhaps as famous as a favourite route for thrill-seeking bikers. We saw a few, or more often heard them roaring up from behind to overtake. I had sore eyes so Bev drove 3 days in a row through the worst/best of it! Hairpins bends, stunning views, bikers and more. No small challenge when we’re still getting used to a 3.5 tonne, 6m long van, so hats off to Bev.

We set ourselves another challenge on the way – could we do 3 nights in a row wild camping? We had fresh water, emptied the waste and the loo. We had solar power to charge the leisure battery. We had plenty of propane. We even bought an inverter from Costarama (like the French B&Q) so we could run a few small 240V things like the laptop charger.

First night, we stopped at Lac de Petichet. Very quiet, still early in the season. I did a quick music video, to give prospective venues an idea of what they were letting themselves in for 😉

A nice wander at Sisteron, then a more basic/less glamourous stop-over at Dignes, with lots of campers in a row by the river, but at least the pizza was good!

Castellane was a highlight, we stopped for a coffee/beer and florentines in the sun by the square. Our camp for the 3rd night was a few miles past the town on Route Napoléon, off the road down a track. Very quiet, very scenic.

It was all going really well so we carried on and spent a fourth night camping for free by a park above the town of La Rouret.

We turned off Route Napoléon just before Cannes, heading east to Italy. We considered another wild camping stop overlooking Monaco but it was a grey and windy day, wouldn’t have been much of a view. So, we rolled on to Italia via the toll road, to a town called Ventimiglia and a paid-for campsite.

Apps for travel: Park4Night

Park4Night is an excellent user-input based app, which allows you to locate (and share information on) free camping spots all over the world. In addition, paying campsites, car parks, picnic areas and even farms are listed, making this an invaluable tool for travellers who, like us, don’t like to stick to a definite plan of where they want to be the next night.

There are literally thousands of spots and whilst some aren’t ideal for a larger vehicle like our 6m home, advice and reviews are given about this sort of thing, so it’s rare that you end up somewhere you can’t actually stay. Some of our favourites so far have been:

Staying on a snail farm! Guess what we had for dinner that night??!! Just €10 for the night, including electricity.

Relaxing by the Saône river. For free!  Our neighbours for the night were on a boat, called, er, ‘Le Boat’…

A peaceful fishing lake. Again, no cost! Beautiful weather, very pleasant.

On the ‘Route Napoleon’ just after Castellane. Great dog walk, great scenery,  no cost. Parfait.

Admittedly some countries don’t have as many free sites, for example, we struggled in Italy, but we still found farms and vineyards where you can stay for free, but you are expected to buy some wine, honey or other produce… which is no great hardship really!

So far, we’ve only used it in Western Europe – will update after we get to Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Scandinavia.

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