Back in the UK for a bit

Germany kept offering more motorhome stopover gems and Koblenz did not dissapoint. The motorhome parking in this city is on the river, and you are spoilt for choice of walks and things to see. Koblenz is where the Moselle and Rhine rivers join and the river is actually very active, making for some interesting and entertaining sights as the boats come by.

I would most certainly like to come back to Koblenz!

After that Olli and I routed quickly through the Netherlands to catch the overnight ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich, and we are now parked at the house of a friend’s relative in the remote riverside village of Waldringfield in Sufffolk. I’m required to do 14 days of self-isolation and it can’t be much easier than doing it here!

Olli is familiar with the garden and surroudings here and I can tell he’s enjoying it despite the heavy rains to date which stopped for a while today allowing for a fantastic spell of sun.

Seems we did some good mileage in 2020 despite the pandemic, if Google is to be believed.

Anyway – the plan is to stay for a bit and ideally escape to the warmer weather of South Portugal before the winter really kicks in, provided there is not another lockdown!

Keep safe.

East to West

I’ve been very lucky in being able to travel around Eastern Europe as far as the Black Sea this season, but before I head to Portugal for the winter I have to go to the UK for two months.

Not the most ideal time to be going considering the state of the pandemic but nonetheless, it has to happen. I have a perfect, very remote spot there to isolate for the required two weeks.

The routing there takes us from Budapest through Austria to the south of Germany, as I will do a quick stop my motorhome dealer in Mannheim for a repair to my driver door handle.

Yesterday Olli and I left a Budapest that was clearly switching over to a rapidly approaching winter and en route I could not believe how cold it suddenly became! At one point it was six degrees and raining, whilst only two weeks ago we were enjoying upper 30’s!.. Time to dig out the winter coat in the garage, clearly.

On this routing we stopped at a car park site listed on one of the apps I use (search for sites) and it’s perfect. Effectively €1.50 for the night, and real close to one of the best city parks I’ve ever seen.

It offers endless paths to enjoy with lots of local dog walkers, all in spectacular scenery. It’s incredibly hard to believe you’re in one of Europe’s big cities.

We had a really good night’s sleep and only 4 hours from Mannheim, where we will go back to a camperstop there we used before. I have to say, Germany knows how to treat their motorhome visitors!

Studentenstadt Park and ride, Munich

Exploring Romania, Bulgaria and the Black Sea Coast

After my (shorter, thanks Covid) summer holiday in Hungary this year I ventured out to Plovdiv in Bulgaria where I had some paperwork to do. I decided to route via Romania and explore a bit off the beaten track.

My route followed the Serbian border and I went to a camp at a lake in the South West corner of Romania near the town of Hunedoara. The camping is right on the lake and was spectacular.

From there I routed south of Bucharest and initially tried a crossing into Bulgaria that Google suggested, but that was shut. I had to reroute and cross at Calafat. The roads were narrow and slow going, with some interesting traffic, but it was relaxed and easy.

sdr

Once in Bulgaria I headed straight for Plovdiv and I was so deligthed to hear about a new camper stop that opened there. It’s about time! Here’s a video I did about it:

Then it was time to explore the Black Sea Coast. My friend Vera who lives in Bulgaria now gave me a ton of wildcamping and campsite recommendations to explore and so off we went.

The first stop was on a cliff edge with amazing views of the ocean, where plenty of others were also wild camping. An absolutely super stop – Dyuni beach, south of Sozopol.

Just look at this sunset view!

From there I headed up further north and found a super little municipal campsite just below Topola, in a quiet resort and fishing village. Again, with spectacular views, and at €15/night it was well worth it.

It really is a super little town and offers superb scenes almost anywhere you walk.

Olli and I are staying here for now till this weekend and then we’ll explore the Romanian side of this coastal route a bit.

Overall, I’m so impressed by the Black Sea Coast – I really had no idea what to expect but I did not expect the scenery to be so great. We’re also very lucky with the weather – averaging 30 degrees in the day and cooler evenings.

I will certainly come back to this part of the world, and if you’ve not been, I highly recommend it.

Tesa Autolevelling for my motorhome

I’ve always been very keen to get an auto-levelling system installed in my motorhome but I’ve been put off by the high cost and weight of the default hydraulic systems.

I saw an electric solution developed in Italy called Tesa and contacted a few UK dealers about this, but they were all quite booked up with appointments. As I was driving through Italy on my way to Hungary I tried my luck and contacted Tesa in Italy, who immediately put me in touch with a dealer near Milan called Carrozzeria DI.VI.CAR.

They were excellent – in the video I mention them again but if you ever need this system installed and you can do it in Italy, go to DiVi Car, you will not regret it. You can stay there the night before (as indeed some other people where doing) and Leonardo, the owner, will give you excellent advice overall on your motorhome’s suspension and more! I actually ended up getting rear air suspension put in as well which I can now control from the driver’s seat, and it makes for an incredible difference in the quality of the ride, not to mention the safety aspect.

They have power, water and drainage facilities there including chem toilets and really could not be more helpful. Mirko will reply to your email inquiry and speaks good English.

Overall I’m really happy with the system – it’s lightweight, bother-free and works really well, and the end result of having your motorhome on a levelling system is just incredible. It’s so stable!

You can contact DiVi car on info@carrozzeriadivicar.it or visit tesalist.eu/en for possible other locations.

Via Switzerland to north Italy

After Holland I routed via Switzerland to get to just north of Milan in Italy, where I was going to get an electric auto-levelling system installed.

My good friends Bryan, Sheila and their dog Ziggy have a house in Grimentz, Switzerland and so I routed to pass near them and we met up in the village of Sierre for a quick breakfast. It was super to see them again.

We took a pic of the dogs but not of us!

I found an incredible municipal overnight stop in the village before which offered a spectacular 360 view that was priceless.

Whilst it was fantastic to be back on the road again, I did encounter an issue with my new compressor fridge. Essentially, I did not tie down the thinner gas line and with the vibration of the driving, it snapped.

I can recall smelling quite a distinct smell and it must have been the freon escaping from the system. This means I was going to loose the frozen seabass and other goodies in my freezer! I gave Bryan and Sheila two of the seabass and tried saving the other food. I called ahead to the Italian dealer that was going to do the auto levelling for me and he put me in touch with a Vitifrigo technician that was near them. (Luckily, the fridge is an Italian brand!)

I managed to find him after a few very tight turns in neighbourboods I’m sure I was not supposed to drive in. He promptly re-attached the gas line and refilled the compressor with gas right there on the side of the road! All sorted.

Then I went on to the auto levelling installer – but about this I’ll write in the next post.

Wonderful Gouda, Holland

We’re back on the road again! With the travel restrictions finally being lifted, Olli and I left from Harwich in the UK late last night on the overnight ferry to Hook of Holland in the Netherlands.

I like coming on that route as it’s close to Suffolk where I’m usually based when I’m in the UK, and Hook of Holland is just generally nicer than the Calais scene. With my South African background I also get to enjoy The Netherlands a little bit more, as I can understand and converse with the locals (albeit a bit slower than they might like) and read the road signs and shop names.

A year ago I’ve discovered a superb parking place in the heart of Gouda, the Dutch city famous for the cheese by the same name. I enjoyed it a lot so I’m back, and this time will stay a day or two, just enjoying the freedom of being out and about and taking in the sights of the town…not to mention the local food, drinks and extras (and obviously cheese, already bought some!).

Face masks now becoming a fashion item it seems
We took the same photo a year ago

The city really is very beautiful with amazing architecture everywhere and a beet relaxed atmosphere, and it’s superb for cycling, obviously being Dutch and all.

If you’re ever in the area with your motorhome, park at Klein Amerika parking, it’s €8/day and there are also electric hookups if you need them. The location is super, right in the heart of town, easy to walk around.

Switching to a more efficient fridge for the motorhome.

The default fridge/freezer in most motorhomes is a 3 way one that can use either gas/lpg, 12v (whilst driving) or mains 240v electricity. It is however in most cases an absorption fridge, meaning it does not have a compressor and pretty much makes no noise.

However, it’s not very efficient, and can consume a lot of power – which was exactly the case with the fridge that came with my 2019 Burstner motorhome, it was a Dometic model and whilst pretty good and quite suitable for occasional use, it was not suitable for full-time, off-grid living. It demanded 180w pretty much all the time and would really eat into my lithium batteries overnight.

So, it had to go! I’ve had this project on the cards now for some time but finally got round to it with the help of a local carpenter and now I have this slim Vitifrigo fridge/freezer that has a 12v compressor, and consumes less than 50w when it’s actually running, which is only when it needs to top up the cold air again.

It’s slighly narrower than the previous fridge but a lot taller, and the compressor itself is seperate. I therefore lost the drawer space underneath the previous fridge and had to make the cupboard above a bit smaller but all in it looks great.

We cut a hole underneath the fridge to allow the hot air from the compressor to cirulate out.
The old absorption fridge, now sold!

Initially I wired it up to what I thought would be sufficient power but the distance in the wiring from the batteries, combined with the wiring not being thick enough, meant the compressor could not get enough power. This took some figuring out but I re-wired it to a temporary piggy-back off the TV/sat system’s power whilst I have arriving soon proper, thick and long wiring that I will put in direct from the batteries to the compressor.

When I did the research on this some motorhome owners we warning me about compressor noise and being a nuisance in a motorhome … so I was a bit worried about this. However these fridges are specifically made for boats and motorhomes and the gentle little “purrr” that it makes only when the compressor runs, hardly bothers me. It even has a “night mode” button that will make it run even less infrequently (and hence quieter) but thus far I’ve had no need to use that.

I can immediately see the improvement in power consumption – whilst initially it drew a of power, now that the fridge has cooled down it maintains it with very little power. So much so I reckon my batteries will hardly drop below 80% overnight, I will be testing this all soon and see if that’s the case!

The motorhome is currently just on solar/lithium power and I can see when the compressor kicks in, it demands around 50w max, which my Victron system happily matches with solar:

So far, I can absolutely recommend making this change if you’re struggling with keeping your power hungry absorption fridge happy whilst wild camping.

Staying at home in the motorhome

I hope this post finds you well and safe during the global Coronavirus pandemic.

I am in social distancing mode in the UK, after just making it back in time in mid March before all the borders closed.

It’s been strange in a way that as routines go, not much has changed for me as I’m on my usual spot when I’m in the UK and as we are still allowed out for walks and runs, Olli and I can still enjoy the super surroundings of Woodbridge, and I go to the garden office we’ve had for many years now, to work.

Low tide along the river Deben in Woodbridge

However normally by now I would have been heading to Italy and then over to Hungary… But it seems very unlikely I’ll be in my usual camping spot in Hungary this summer, though it could be an option late in August, who knows where this pandemic will take us.

I guess should we be OK to allow more movement in the UK by the summer, Olli and I might tour Scotland a bit this summer. I suspect a few whiskey tours might come up!

Keep safe and stay at home to fight this pandemic!

Driving through Europe during the Covid-19 pandemic

I’ve been on the A4 road north of Paris many times, but I’ve never seen it so void of people and cars. I had to drive from Frankfurt to the UK just as France not only closed it’s borders, but also wants people to stay at home to help curb the spread of the Corona virus.

As such I had to explain several times to police I’m heading “home” and need to get to Calais. Luckily the motorhome has a GB registration. Scenes along the way looked like a typical “the world has ended” movie… Deserted shops, empty streets and only trucks, motorhomes, ambulances and on a very morbid note, noticeably more undertaker vehicles on the highway. The ferry I’m on now is virtually empty, only truckers and two other cars.

An empty ferry

This thing is serious and apart from the tragic loss of life, can we even begin to understand the economic impact? We are in unprecedented times.

There is though silver linings. People around me are genuinely more friendly, smiling, asking how you are. People are holding doors open (with their feet!) and in general, being nice.

For me, later today I’ll be reunited with my dog Olli who had to stay behind in the UK whilst I went on a long work trip to Qatar and South Africa. I’m picking him up and the heading to the big farmhouse near Cambridge we rented for our company team meetup, that has now been cancelled. I’m looking forward to the solitude of that and being able to catch up with Olli!

Stay safe but more importantly be kind to others. Together we’ll get through this thing.

Road test – Winter in Southern Spain and Portugal

I finally managed to escape the cold England grip in early December and set off as far South in Spain as I could go. I met up with my Dutch friends Erik and Joke – who travel in a humongous motorhome – and we toured down to Malaga in Spain together, seeing more and more sun the further south we went.

A motorhome parking spot in San Sebastian, North Spain

It gave me a chance to take the new Rayquaza for a proper test drive and test out not only how she drives, but also what my substantial investment in solar and lithium is giving me, and how that is going to help with wild camping (where you don’t have access to an elecrical hookup).

For most of the trip we simply “wild camped”, eg no access to an electrical hookup.

In short, she performs brilliantly. Only this week – 6 weeks after I left – did I hook up to an eletrical plug at a campsite, and only because it was there. I’ve been free/wild camping till now and my only slight gripe is I wish I had more water onboard. The tank is a stated 120 litres, but that can go quite quickly, especially if one uses the shower. Luckily, water is not too difficult to find, I tend to ask at petrol stations after I filled up on diesel, if they’d mind I hook up to a tap outside and fill up.

There were a few other snags, like a small leak in my water tank access hatch or an led light not working, but nothing major and easily fixable stuff to deal with.

I also figured out whilst I can have the 230v on all the time, I can’t really run the fride on the mains if I had a couple of cloudy days – at some stage the drain just becomes too much. That is easily solved though by simply running the fridge on gas overnight, and on power in the daytime, especially if it’s sunny.

The Viktron inverter/charger combi I got installed (the thing that manages all the power flow and turns 12v battery power into mains power) is an incredible piece of kit, and having mains power at all times / when I need it without having to faff about with a separate inverter etc is just superb.

The back bedroom area

Everything about the new motorhome feels so new, fresh and nice to use it’s only a pleasure.

.. And notice my South African flower themed cushions, thanks Ma Adri!

I’m still a bit skeptical about the longevity of some of the interior fittings (e.g. drawer closing brackets etc) but so far, so good. The new 4g / 5g antenna I had put in also performs extremely well and so does my cross-EU Vodafone package with unlimited Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming – perfect!

On a personal front, I had my mother, Adri, join me for a tour from Malaga to the border on Spain in Ayamonte, where my older brother lives, and we got to spend Christmas together.

Again with the new motorhome having a large guest bed in the front is a winner and the ability to seperate the two sleeping areas, and provide privacy in the bathroom space worked really well. This is a super motorhome!

With the holiday season long gone and my mother back to South Africa, I returned to the nomadic working lifestyle again, and settled down in spots I liked in the week, so I can work, whilst traveling mostly on the weekends.

Motorhome parking spot in the marina of Ayamonte, Spain

This week I joined up again with Joke and Erik, who are also still in the area. We spent the week at a remote campsite just south of Lisbon but now we’re back in the south again and I’m likely to return to what is becoming a favourite spot, the motorhome parking in the marina of Ayamonte. It is superbly located, with views onto the boats and then the town, and its quiet at night whilst easy to walk into town and enjoy a range of choice for food and drinks.

At some stage I need to start heading North again, as I need to be in the UK late Feb, but for now Olli and I are clinging on to as many days in the warmer sunnier climate of South Spain as we can get.