Thursday, 28 June 2012

Coals to Newcastle? Chorizo to Spain!

Anyone who has ever seen one of my food demos will know that I like to bang on about a select few ingredients that fit perfectly with the campervan lifestyle. Firstly, I love to talk about and cook mackerel. That's becuse they are delicious, good for you, sustainable and all I can ever catch when I go fishing. Secondly, I talk about and cook mussels because they are the food that got me into foraging in the first place and are easy to cook. I have cooked them more than anything else in my cooking 'career' and have yet to kill anyone (to my knowledge) with them - so I remain bouyed by their 100% success rate so far.
The third ingredient I use a lot in the van - and at home - is chorizo. It's extremely versatile, can be cooked in all kinds of dishes (including those with mackerel and mussels) and is a camper van staple. That's because it can be stored for ages without spoiling. You can save it for those unfortunate food doldrums that strike from time to time when there's not much left and everyone is starving. The answer? Whip out your sausage from the back of the cupboard and all will be well. Some pasta, a tub of creme fraiche and a stick of chorizo is all you'll need for a tasty , if basic, tea when all else fails.
In case you didn't know, chorizo is a spicy Spanish that's made with pork and spiced with smoked paprika. It's simple stuff but I love it. Thanks to Chris at Paganum Produce we'll be taking some of his gorgeous smoked Yorkshire Chorizo with us on our travels to Spain this summer. I cooked with it on my UK tour during the filming of One Man and His Campervan and have used it plenty of times since as it's available online.
So we'll be taking coals to Newcastle, so what? I am sure it'll stand up to the competition.
We'll soon find out anyway.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The key to adventure: packing light

This is it. The key to adventure and the last bit of preparation I have to do before we hit the ferry to Roscoff on Saturday. It's something I always do before any trip in the van - sort out the spare key. It then goes round my neck until the moment we return. It's like my own personal insurance policy against loss, theft, silliness, drunkenness and carelessness. As long as this is around my neck we will be able to get home. In theory. I know, there are many other potential disasters that could befall us that are worse than losing the ignition key but it makes me feel good to have it there. So if we lose the main set of keys in the sand, leave them in a bar or get our pockets felt we'll always be able to fire up the old girl and hit the road again. We might not be able to open the doors, unlock the trailer or release our bikes but we shall drive.

It's not the only preparation we have done. I've imposed limits on baggage, numbers of socks per family member and agonised over what toys, books and equipment to bring. It runs in the family apparently. I have always quoted my grandfather as the king of packing but it seems he wasn't the only family member to impose dracoanian rules about what you can carry. As a young man he traveled the length and breadth of the country on his motorbike with nothing but the barest essentials. His limits were so strict that he would cut bars of soap in half to save weight. Then again that's nothing compared to my Dad. My mother told me yesterday that they went on holiday to Devon sometime in the early sixties in his 3 wheeler Morgan. Like my Grandfather he was always worried about carrying too much weight. In fact he was so concerned on that trip that he made my Mum go on the bus. From London. Nice one Dad.

I'm not that bad but I have considered it. For a moment. Actually I've been trying to keep up with the law when it comes to taking vehicles abroad. This year France imposed a law that all drivers must carry at least 2 disposable breathalysers in the car with them at all times. It's a great idea but it means another trip to Automate in Bideford to pick up more 'essentials'. Then there's the issue of rear mounted bike carriers in Spain. Thanks neighbours for putting the willies up me on that one. And not forgetting the beam benders, first aid kits, hi viz jackets and the EHIC. And so it goes on...

Thinking of heading off yourself this summer? You might need some of this:

  • 2 breathalyzers for France (from 1st July).
  • Warning triangle, two for Spain.
  • Hi-viz jackets for the driver. One for each person in the car for Spain (not mandatory).
  • Spare bulbs (recommended).
  • GB sticker (if you don't have GB plates).
  • First Aid Kit (not compulsory but advisable)
  • EHIC card and travel insurance (advisable).
  • Breakdown cover (up to you).
  • Beam benders (compulsory).
  • Wife and kids (not compulsory - if you prefer they can fly and meet you there)
Don't forget that we're still looking for suggestions as to where to head. We've had some really brilliant ones so far - Ile De Re, Les venises Verts and a nudist beach in Spain for starters. But we'd still like more. So, if you have been to the Atlantic coast of France or the north coast of Spain and have some brilliant recommendations, share them with us! We'll be blogging as we go.


Friday, 15 June 2012

Boring! The tedious side of getting ready for a trip.

This week I have been mystery shopping. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. I have been doing yet more preparation for our trip to Europe in our trusty camper van (if it comes back from the garage in time). There has been so much to do, from packing up the house to sorting out what we are going to take and what kind of insurances we’ll need. Happily I got a great deal from the AA to cover us for breakdowns in Europe. I would call that an essential. The last time we went away to France in a camper we had a smashed windscreen on the motorway that delayed us for 2 days and meant we had to stay in a hotel whilst a new one was found. Our policy covered it.
Another of those boring essentials is travel insurance. We have EHIC (the old E111) cards but, as few people realise, they don’t provide the kind of medical cover we might need. An EHIC card will only cover us for the same level of free medical treatment that citizens of that country receive. So that means no repatriation, no special treatment, no free non-urgent treatment if you fall ill.
Let’s also face it, accidents do happen. Last year on a trip to the Outer Hebrides daughter number one, Maggie, fell off some monkey bars about five minutes after we had reached our final destination, Eoropie on the Isle of lewis, and suffered a green stick fracture to her arm. Off to hospital we went for a patch up. It was minor but it changed our holiday, as Maggie, whilst proud to have a plaster cast, soon realised that she couldn’t surf, swim, ride her bike or jump off stuff. I daresay it could have been worse. That's her above, making the most of it.
Hence my mystery shopping. I have been looking for travel insurance to compare with the policies offered by one of my clients, World First Travel Insurance. It might seem like a standard thing to do, but for us (and for lots of other people with medical ‘baggage’) it’s different. We have medical conditions to declare. My wife, Jo, was ill with Ulcerative Colitis a few years ago and still takes medication as a result of the condition. Maggie had leukaemia as a baby. Whilst she has been in remission for 8 years we still have to declare it because, if we didn’t and she got ill as a result of that, we’d find our cover would be useless. It’s the same for Jo. If we didn’t declare her condition, our cover would be invalid. It isn’t worth the risk.
That means that ‘normal’ policies, from companies like Columbus Direct, become expensive, whilst others won’t cover us at all. We went for Columbus’ top policy for four of us, for 70 days away, with all the knobs and whistles including delay, baggage, curtailment etc and it came to £190. I thought that was pretty reasonable. Then I declared the medical conditions and the cost jumped to £340. This is for conditions that are ‘cured’ so I can only imagine what kind of a hike the price would take if I was undergoing treatment for a condition like cancer or was over 70. The Post Office wouldn’t cover Ulcerative Colitis at all.
Time then, to look to the specialists, namely our old friends at World First Travel Insurance. I know them well but even so, wanted to benchmark their policy costs for our trip against others. First of all they accepted the medical conditions, then offered us a policy including £5 million medical cover, baggage cover and cancellation cover at £239 with all conditions covered. So that’s that then - the client comes good with a low cost answer. Phew.
Next job: packing
And don't forget.... We are still looking for brilliant suggestions for places to stay, eat and play. Our route is the Atlantic Coast, with our final destination somewhere in Galicia. Over to you. Answers on a postcard....

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Life on four wheels. Family on two.

I don't often get carried away with technical details about camper vans but today I am going to indulge myself. So if you were expecting whimsical wonderings about living the life in this post, apologies. This is about the stuff that camper van people get more than a little obsessed with - how to carry it all, not go even slower and yet still retain that groovy retro charm we all adore.....
So. I have been searching for a neat solution to the problem of carrying four bikes on the van for our trip to France and Spain. Most people know that the Fiamma T2 Bike racks will only carry 2 bikes. Now that the girls are able cyclists on almost grown up bikes, we need to find a way of carrying them so they don't have to travel inside the van (the bikes not the girls). The last trip we went on, to Ireland, was ridiculously overpacked and showed us how badly we need to sort out our living space. So we've been looking for a way to carry lots of things and not clog up the inside of the van. The answer of course is a trailer. I bought an old Westfalia trailer on ebay for £100 not so long ago but was loathe to muck about with it because I didn't want to mess with its 'integrity'. Yeah yeah. Even so, I needed a lockable space for camping gear and some way of carrying the bikes. The solution, if you are still awake, a pair of standard bike carriers from ebay (£10 each), a piece of ply, some hinges and a few nuts and bolts. There. Sorted.
The only thing of course is having to keep the speed down with the trailer on those French motorways. I don't think it'll be a problem.

Oh, by the way. We are still looking for brilliant suggestions for places to stay, eat and play. Our route is the Atlantic Coast. Over to you. Answers on a postcard....