The Motoroamer’s Restaurant Review
For some people eating is a passion and cooking is a work of art; for others, it’s just a necessary evil. Whichever is true for you, there’s no doubt that seeking out a traditional restaurant is one of the best ways to get a true flavour of another country’s culture.
We don’t eat out often because when you have the luxury of your own home on wheels, eating in is so easy. Although we do love to try local food and experiment with regional delicacies; yet finding a restaurant that serves up authentic fare and not just a tourist designed menu at exorbitant prices, can be hard. Let’s face it we are visitors to a strange land and whilst we may well be armed with the latest Travel Guide, finding a place that suits our budget and our palette can be like looking for a needle in a haystack – especially in the heart of a throbbing city.
So when someone can share their personal insights of an outstanding restaurant with great food and service, then it surely must be done.
Hungry in Hungary
With our flying visit through Hungary and a pit stop at Budapest to rendezvous with friends and family, we were introduced to a restaurant that looked too good to be true. Our research took us to their website that promotes their unique approach to dining, offering traditional Hungarian recipes inspired by Grandma’s family kitchen. And unlike lots of websites that often don’t uphold their promises – The Hungarikum Bisztró most certainly delivered – on all counts. And we liked it so much we went back twice.
So how can I take you on a gastronomic journey that imparts our experiences and inspires you to visit?
Location, Location, Location
The Danube, Budapest
Let’s start off by the Bisztró’s location. So you are two streets away from the Danube and the bustling vibrance of cruise boats, ferries and tugs gliding up and down the waterway. You are only four blocks away from the most stunning of Budapest buildings – the Parliament Palace and in the same vicinity you have the M3 Underground Metro, making it position perfect.
Now, I’ll be honest, the building that the Bisztró calls home is not magnificent from the outside and has a very understated feel about it, so your initial reaction is one of caution and uncertainty. A discretely branded sign hangs inconspicuously above the door, giving you little hint to the splendour of what is behind. And then you walk through their entrance…
The minute you enter you are transported into a home-from-home room that feels like it could be your own personal dining room, offering no more than forty covers, yet giving you an immediately intimate feel. You are then struck with panic – will we be able to get a table? Your fears are soon allayed, as the girls study their booking sheet and soon have you sat down, even if you have to wait for just a few minutes. In our two visits, the restaurant was full although no one was ever turned away.
Decorated in comforting autumnal tones of deep red and golden yellows, this delightful restaurant creates a warm ambiance that penetrates your tourist weary souls and you feel this wave of restfulness wash over you. And that’s before you have even looked at the menu of simple Hungarian delights. Red checked cloths grace the tables and bookcases of paprika paste and Hungarian wines decorate the walls – you really do feel at home.
Food, Glorious Food
Then you get your menus, in the language of your choice accompanied by a tablet that shows you each and every plate of food so that they can tantalise your imagination as well as your tastebuds. So the difficulty now is what on earth you will eat. Will it be the crispy leg of duck with Hungarian red cabbage or the plaited pork fillet with paprika sauce and cabbage dumplings? Perhaps it will be the Special Dish of the Day – strips of beef fillet in a traditional goulash style sauce and fried potatoes.
And in that gap between your tantalising expectations and your first mouthful, that is so often filled with an emptiness that has you chewing on your fingernails, the girls come out with a complementary appetiser of delicate chunks of Hungarian bread baked with bacon and a piquant paprika dip that will have you reaching for a glass of wine to dowse the heat building in your mouth. The local wines I’m told are delightful and the beers, I am happy to report are scrumptious.
During our first visit, my greedy ego just wanted to taste everything, so I indulged in a platter of Hungarian tasters of bacon and chorizo styled sausage and breads, which was delightful. Although, as so often is the case, my eyes were too big for my tummy and by the time the main course arrived with big smiles and a warmth of your closest friend, I was already quite full. Although nothing was going to stop me from enjoying the deliciousness of my crispy duck. It was heavenly, as was each and every meal on our table. Simplicity and hearty plates of food draw you in seductively to their regional charm.
And with satiated appetites, the girls finally bring you a complementary glass of Grappa; a blast of fire water that alights your mouth with an explosion of taste, rounding off this divine restaurant experience with a sensory finale.
Hungarikum Bisztro Team
We must not go without a mentioning István and his team; both behind the scenes in the all-important the kitchen and the front-of-house. The food is cooked with loving care and consistency and it is delivered by a team of angels. They treat you, not like visitors or tourists, they engage with you like friends and there is a sense of their desire to give you a great experience. The team is picked with care and they each uphold the restaurant’s values that puts authentic cooking and service as its priority.
So as you leave the sanctuary of this friendly and warm restaurant back into the buzz of Budapest, you take with you memories of gastronomic delights in your belly and an eating experience that goes deep into your heart, however you happen to feel about food. This is one place that not only promotes the tastes of Hungary, it also represents Hungarian’s hospitality perfectly and we implore you to put this on your Budapest tour.
You arrive as hungry visitors and you leave as friends of Hungary.
Address: 1051 Budapest, Steindl Imre Utica, 13, (47.503462 19.048057)
Telephone number for recommended reservations: 36 30 661 6244.
Facebook: www.facebook.com/hungarikumbisztro or their direct website www.hungarikumbisztro.hu
As I’m sat in the mountains just north of Brasov, Romania, with the early morning cloud tickling the tree tops in a mischievous manner, feral dogs barking seemingly at fresh air and a lone runner pounding the ground – I’m left pondering! Pondering on the life of a nomad and a travelling introvert.
Early morning creativity
Romanian Monastery – early morning sunrise
There’s no more perfect a time for me than the early morning rise. That moment where night surrenders to the light signalling the awakening of a dawn. With my solitude I can watch the world unfurl into a new day. This tiny window of calm is a time for me to reflect, write and just be, without the noise that inevitably comes with the emerging sun. The stillness paradoxically beats in tune with my heart and, for that moment, we are as one.
A time when my creativity is at its highest, with no distractions to distort its flow – just the sounds of wildlife as it makes the most of this precious tranquility.
So what is it that makes travelling so special? Is it the bewilderment from undiscovered lands that ooze legacy and natural beauty? Or perhaps it is the buzzing throng of a city with its crowds of people going somewhere or going nowhere, it matters not. Travelling for some might be the journey to reach a destination, whilst for others it is the pure stillness of sitting in a new land that feels strange and yet somehow vaguely familiar and breathing it in as if it were part of you.
Travel is a unique experience
Thriving on the nourishing coastliner
How we experience travel is unique to us all. Yet for the growing swell of wanderlust seekers we share the pure joy at having the freedom to leave behind our constricted lives, for a moment or forever and feel it penetrate deep into our soul, enriching us beyond recognition. Yet beyond this commonality, our adventures will take on a completely different feel dependent upon our personalities and needs. Being in a city full of noise and movement is my idea of hell, although others thrive on it. Leave me by the coast with the gently lapping waves or in the mountains where the air is crisp and clear or sat by a field of lavender listening to the orchestra of bees – this is where I will find my Nivarna.
Wearing a mask
The masks we wear
As an introvert who has come from a very public corporate job, burnt-out and overwhelmed from a business where I had to give so much of myself away, I had all too little time to replenish my energy. I found the need to retreat from the world and heal from the effects of a life wearing a mask. And now having committed to a life as nomads, travelling the world with curiosity in our pockets and adventure in our hearts, it occurs to me to question – Does this soothes my introverted nature or does it challenge it?
And strangely I think it does both. There are times when we meet new people or friends we’ve made along the way and we share a precious moment together with laughter and discussion filling the air. And for a short while this is beautiful and its lovely to connect with like-minded souls who are striving for the same sense of freedom.
My travel Utopia
And yet there comes a time when this exchange starts to drain my battery reserves and a retreat to my own space beckons like the pull of a magnet. It’s primal, instinctive and I must heed its call, otherwise my strain becomes palpable.
You see, it is in the space of solitude where peace massages my soul and I am enveloped in its protection that I can fully experience the world. Feeling a place from within, through my senses rather than through a shared experience. Don’t get me wrong, I love to share and be with others to talk about our adventures, although so much of my travelling joys are based on being able to internalise the sensations and absorb them into my heart through my skin.
City cafe Scene
There is nothing more I love than exploring a city from the relative safety of a pavement cafe where I can observe the passing world and wonder at people’s stories almost as if in a slow-motion movie. Within the heart of the mountains or by the coast you will find me at my best, absorbing nature’s essence and wondering at its magnificence. The seemingly motionless lake, where life beneath the surface vibrates with an almost invisible existence, I will sit in contemplation and flourish in its tranquility. Amongst a crowd of strangers, I love to sit back and listen to the buzz and dynamics whilst I curiously explore the paths people have travelled. And as the day gives way to night and the sun sinks into the horizon’s embrace, I cherish the time to reflect on my day and its joys. This is how I love to travel.
Apart from travelling with my soulmate, who is also an introvert, thankfully, my greatest companion on my journey is my camera. To capture a place through the lens and convert it to a story with words that adds texture and emotion is joyful. This is why I love what we do and why I can honest say that this is the happiest time of my life, ever!
So if you meet me on the road, I will aways show you my warmth and love, because that is an innate part of me too. Although never feel sad or rejected if you see me retreat as this is the natural call of my heart. Never feel concerned if you see me sat on a rock staring into space. Never wonder whether this lonely traveller needs some company or a conversation. All is well with this travelling introvert as this is how she harmonises with her adventures and converts them into memories.
We all have a different take on travelling and the joy that exploring new lands and cultures hold. So whether we meet as fellow introverts or extroverts, always know that we are connected through that delicate strand of silk that has us discovering ourselves on the journey that our feet were born to experience. Have happy and safe travels. Karen x
So here’s the thing. We buy a motorhome which soon becomes our pride and joy and we float on Cloud 9 dreaming of adventures and the freedom of life on the open road! We’ve done our homework, we’ve got our insurance, put security measures in place and now happy times discovering the world is surely our reward! What could possibly go wrong?
The one thing we’ve learnt from 18 months on the road is that travelling; full-time or long-time still brings its own stresses. We don’t magically escape from life’s challenges just because we’ve decided to go travelling or have a long-term holiday… there are still a whole host of issues that may need dealing with.
So how do we cope when our tyre bursts, our bikes are stolen or our brakes don’t feel right? All situations that could well happen to any one of us, at any time, in any country. And when they do, they will most likely be completely out of the blue and throw us into a potential complete frenzy. Add to the mix that we’re likely to be in a country where English is not the first language and a whole dictionary of technical words and phrases may be needed to resolve the problem. Tricky!
Is this the stuff that travellers’ nightmares are made of? Perhaps, although let’s face it, if we worried about these types of issues, we would never leave the house, let alone go travelling into new and undiscovered corners of the globe. So knowing how to cope with these challenges is an important part of the travellers’ toolkit and once mastered will see us gliding through the problems with ease and minimal stress.
Why, you might ask, am I writing this blog today?
Good question… After being in the northern reaches of Romania heading south towards Bucharest, we drove down a gravel path from a car park, only to hear a strange noise coming from the front wheel. ‘It’s ok’, I said, as if I had some sudden hidden knowledge of motor mechanics, ‘It’ll be some loose gravel got into the brakes. It’ll be fine!’ I’m not sure who I was trying to convince more with my comforting words – myself or Myles.
As Myles has some mechanical knowledge from his youth, he decided to take off the front wheels to assess the situation. His report was neither full of positivity, nor was it a message of disaster. The brake pads on both sides were almost out and in fact he was adamant that both needed replacing ‘tout de suite’ as they say in France. They were fine for our short journey to the city, although it needed immediate attention.
So we discussed the options; we either stayed put in the hope that we could get fixed at the small Fiat dealer in town, or we limped our way very slowly to Bucharest, where being a city, we would hopefully have more options and a better chance of repair. Given that it was late Saturday afternoon and nothing would be open on Sunday, we decided travelling south was our only real option. The mountainous terrain didn’t help our nerves and a five mile traffic jam added to our intensity, although we made it to our destination.
With a bit of googling, we found four Fiat garages and with a plan of action conjured up over a glass or two of something soothing, we headed for an early start before the morning’s rush hour. Of the four garages I had found, the first one had long since closed! Hope slowly stumbled… The second was in a tower block where getting the camper anywhere close to the suggested location was an impossibility… Hope was sighing now! The third was on the opposite side of a dual carriage way. So with the dexterity of a spring lamb I hopped out of the van and armed with Google Translate I found someone at the garage and asked, in my best Romanian, if they could help. And indeed they could, on 28 August. Given it was 14 August and we needed to be in Budapest by 2nd September, my hope gasped in horror.
We consoled ourselves with the compromise of buying a set of brake pads and Myles fitting them. It was doable; not our greatest outcome, although doable. As we made said purchase, in a passing conversation with a young mechanic who had spent 12 months in UK, I asked him how long brake pads would take to fit. He said no more than an hour and, unprompted said he would talk to the boss. Now this was the boss who had already said ‘no way today’. So could my hope finally have a little rally? Oh yes! And then it did a dance when the boss started to fill out the job sheet – happy days. This young chap had secured us a place on their morning’s schedule and to say we were grateful is an understatement.
And indeed within the hour the job was done and Scoobie was back on the road, fit and well once again. And with a bill of €100 plus a little tip for the mechanic who saved our bacon, we were as you can imagine, over the moon.
So what have we learnt from this challenge, probably one of our biggest in the last 18 months?
- Don’t panic. These situations are going to happen at some point. We had little notion of how long brake pads would take to wear on the camper as we only have a car as a comparison. And whilst we have travelled 19000 miles there’s no rule book that says when to be prepared. We have a figure in mind now so that’s a great lesson for us. And of course wear and tear on brake pads is dependent on so many factors including the terrain you travel and how often you use the brakes. We all drive differently although for our travel style we’ll diarise to have them checked on 37000 miles.
- We Googled dealers that were close to us and made sure that we had a number of options, not just one. Don’t assume just because they are listed on the internet that they still exist. We were glad to have had a number of alternatives to choose from.
- Keep your phone charged so that you have enough juice to keep in touch with garages, friends or each other if you need to split up to assess your options on the other side of the road. A uncharged phone is like a chocolate fire guard.
- Get the co-ordinates of the places for your Sat Nav because if you have to navigate around a city with just an address, it could be costly – for your stress levels.
- I was so grateful for Google Translate on my phone so I could communicate clearly and without anxiety. We always go into countries with conversational basics, one of which is ‘do you speak English’. That is always a good starting point. From there Google Translate and its playback facility becomes your greatest friend.
- Have a back up plan. If this third option of ours had not worked out, then we planned on going to another car manufacturer and asking for their help. They could then at least ring around their network and source a solution for us, rather than us trawling around a town or city looking for a needle in a haystack.
- Worst case scenario. If we had needed to, we could have contacted our European Breakdown Cover and asked their advice.
- Our final option was to head for a campsite where we could consider our options. Whilst not all campsite hosts speak English certainly those we have come across have been incredibly helpful and they will, most of the time bend over backwards to get you the help you need. At least you will be safe and secure at a site and you can then look for options in the cold light of day.
- And finally, take one step at a time. It’s so easy for our minds to go into overdrive and start worrying about the ‘What if’ scenarios. Although this really doesn’t add anything to the situation. We just simply dealt with what was facing us in that moment and decided to suspend any other conversations until they arose. The situation has the potential for so much stress, so don’t add to your load.
We learnt a long while ago, and it was reinforced today, that you should never loose faith when incidents like this happen. Things going wrong with the camper are inevitable at some point on your journey and in fact it’s no different to a problem arising in a house. It just needs tackling with a clear head and a strong resolve. Thankfully we managed to get things sorted out and all is well. It tested us that’s for sure, although with some teamwork, we navigated around the problem and now we are ready to continue our adventure. Problem solved!
Travelling in any form has its joy, delight and its own fair share of challenges, as we are finding out as we enter month 18 of our full-time, nomadic lifestyle. Although to every challenge there is always a creative solution that often provides a far better outcome. This first report in our Travellers’ Challenge series offers an alternative view of gift giving when you’re living life on the road.
As a proverbial giver and people-pleaser, one of my greatest joys is presenting gifts to people. I love finding, choosing and giving meaningful presents that show people how they matter to me. So you can imagine how this aspect of my personality has been seriously challenged as we continue to commit to our lives travelling around Europe in our motorhome. Both getting gifts to my loved ones back ‘home’ and finding gestures of kindness for fellow travellers that we connect with along the way, is tricky. After all when you are living in a small home, have a weight and space consideration or are moving around a lot with perhaps just a backpack or small camper, having any more ‘stuff’ than is absolutely necessary is just not practical, despite the gratification it creates. Consider the added fact that with umpteen culturally diverse local shops enticing you with their handmade wears, it’s so hard to resist their goodies as you know how impractical it is to package things up and send them home.
So what’s a ‘giving sort of girl’ to do with this conundrum?
Well three things strike me as I write about this travelling challenge. First is how to use your imagination to make lovely gestures to your loved ones. Second is making use of the internet and the third is being inspired by the creativity of others you meet along the way and being motivated by their gifting perspectives.
Imagination and creativity
Travel has been one of my greatest teachers and no more do I look to the commerciality of gift giving – practicalities guide me to seek out my inspiration from nature and ‘out of the box’ resources. One of the skills I am fortunate enough to have is being creative and using my imagination to conjure up gifts that come from the heart and that are made with love. A long time ago I learnt that giving is not about price or volume, it’s thinking about someone and finding a way to expresses your love. We gave up buying presents for annual celebrations years ago as it is so easy to get caught up in the marketing trap that invites us to spend money on meaningless gifts because we are conditioned into think that is the right thing to do.
Travelling has taught me otherwise.
So now I use my creativity to look at gift ideas in a different way;
Good Luck Charm
As a child, one of my dad’s friends told me that whenever you are walking along a pebble beach, look out for stones that have a hole going all the way through, as this comes with good luck blessings. So now beach combing takes on a whole new perspective for me as I search for said stone with said hole. Then add a bit of unwanted ribbon cut from one of my tops, hey presto I have an instant SAFE TRAVEL and GOOD FORTUNE charm.
- The beach has so many sources of inspiration for me. When I lived in a house, I used to pick flat stones, varnish and paint them with meaningful words for my recipient. These days without the room for varnish and paint, I use my Sharpie pens to write messages of love on small stones, which carries the same sentiment.
- Pruning wild rosemary and making it into a little bouquet can be as lovely a gift as a shop bought bunch of flowers that will die within a week. Rosemary has so many healthy properties that it comes with two-fold advantage.
- Although I’m very careful where and how, sometimes a little bunch of wild flowers can be a lovely gesture. We were in Greece for May Day, where the tradition is to pick wild flowers and make them into a wreath or bouquet. And so I got up early and found such an array of brightly coloured, spring flowers for my dashboard and our convoying friends and it gave me so much joy to do it.
- Food is a great way to show appreciation or gratitude. Even in the smallest of kitchens, baking, juicing or cooking up a meal for someone can be a beautiful gift that is wrapped with time and love. We met a guy who shared some wine with us a couple of weeks back and in return, the next day, he had made us some beautiful flapjacks. Thanks Colin, wherever you are.
Pebble Art from Spain
Back to the beach – make it a sandy one this time – why not draw messages in the sand and then take a photo? You can either leave the messages for someone you are travelling with to read, or email or WhatsApp the photo to a friend who is back home. Alternatively, make a heart with pebbles and stones and fire this over to them instead. They will be so happy that you have thought about them in this way.
The internet is a great ‘gifting’ resource
These days, being remote doesn’t have to mean that gifts can be sent in time for celebrations. In fact it is such an easy way to remind people that you are thinking of them. Shopping and sending creations remotely can be done so effortlessly these days; with a bit of a signal, the press of a few buttons and hey presto; gift chosen, purchased and sent. Here’s some of the ways we send gifts remotely;
- I love taking creative photos, whether with my Samsung phone or my DSLR Camera. I then use a Photo Editing App – Pixlr to add text or to create a collage that I then email to friends to convey our happy times together.
- I love to upload photos into eCard websites such as Funky Pigeon or my favourite is Moonpig so I can send personalised love through the post for Anniversaries and Birthdays. And Snapfish to create photo albums of memories for special occasions.
- I also use the web for gift and flower deliveries just to let people know I’m thinking of them or for saying thank you. Big stores, such as Marks and Spencer or John Lewis are great resources for our UK friends or Amazon for UK and worldwide deliveries. Liberty Trading is also great for different gift ideas that you can send from afar. (See the side bar for a link to their site.)
- I have started to use on-line florists, Bloom&Wild who are a letterbox flower delivery company and they are fabulous. Really lovely, organic flowers and bouquets, suiting all budgets. And ordering can be pretty much ‘next day’ in case you’ve forgotten that all-important date because you’re too busy having fun or in the midst of travelling.
Isn’t it interesting how you sometimes remember a place for its crystal blue waters and crashing waves and other times it stays in your mind because of the people you meet and their gestures of kindness.
One such memory is of Belpech, France with the Pyrenees as our backdrop, where we met Sarah and Keith. After a delightful evening with them, Sarah gifted us these gorgeous table mats that she had made by hand, whilst on her travels. She used scraps of material that she collected along the way and made blankets, bedcovers and placemats. Such an inspiration if you have that skill.
Penny, who we met in Dénia, Spain used old magazines that she no longer needed to make these beautiful paper flowers. What a lovely and creative gift that leaves you with such warm memories of a time, place and people.
So you can travel, stay in touch with loved ones and give gifts of love – it’s just about looking at presents and sharing differently and without the commercial edge and expectation. And the best bit? Making something, crafting something with your own fair hand gives the giver so much joy and pleasure; so everyone’s a winner. There are so many resources at our fingertips, so much simplicity – we just need to see giving to others in a new light and boom! From a Traveller’s Challenge to a creative solution; a gift from your heart to theirs that will have so much more meaning and value.
Happy gifting travellers. Kx
One of my first impressions of Greece as we rolled off the Anek Lines ferry, was how the full moon lit up Drepano Beach, Igoumenitsa and made the sea sparkle in its darkness. It welcomed us with open arms and from that moment on our love affair with Greece began. And now as we sit in Nafplio in the south-east Peloponnese, the full moon once again reminds us of his dominance over the night, signalling that we have, incredibly, had one calendar month in this beautiful land. It seems almost impossible to imagine that we arrived here just 30 short days ago on 11 April.
And yet in one month, we have already learned so much about the country, its customs and diversity, how to fit in with the locals and how to ease into Greek life effortlessly. I absolutely know that the next full moon will have taught us even more, although for now, I thought I would share my insights from my Greek teacher!
- Greece is amazing in spring. Before the sun turns on her power, you have some amazing weather that starts to acclimatise you
for the hotter days ahead. On top of that, the spring brings new life in the floral world with yellow cactus flowers, red, pink and purple bougainvillaea and the most intense deep red poppies. The kaleidoscope of colours just wake up our dark, winter eyes with joy and beauty.
- Talking about weather, the afternoons, at least at this time of year, seem always to be windy. There has been an uncanny pattern that as the sun’s heat rises, the wind decides not to be outdone. Even on the eastern edge of the Peloponnese, almost without fail, our afternoons have been rather breezy. It has been great to keep us cool, although does thwart our bar-be-que efforts.
- Wild camping is a joy in Greece. Now I know that this can be a contentious subject and often rallies the hotly debated issue of campsites v wilding. Although for those of you who follow us regularly, you know how respectfully we treat wild camping in terms of contributing back to the community for the privilege of camping in the wilds. At that’s the word I would use for camping in Greece – it’s an absolute privilege. We’ve camped in some of the most wonderful, wild, secluded and sensational places I have ever had the honour to call home and the memories they have created will stay with me forever. And certainly camping in this way, ‘out of season’ has caused us no issues with locals or authorities, despite indications in camping books suggesting otherwise.
- Of course wild camping brings its own problems such as toilet dumping and water. Water is not a problem here as almost every beach has a shower and tap, which you can fill up from – and whilst not potable water, it’s fine for showers and washing up. Just use bottled water for everything else. Also find yourself a marina that are two to a penny here, as they always have taps for the visiting boats. The toilet is a bit more of a challenge. The biggest advantage we have is that we have a second cassette, which has been worth its weight in gold, giving us up to six days if we need it. Although when it comes to emptying, we either drop into a campsite and tie it up with washing and internet or we find a garage who often let you use their outdoor toilet, if you fill up with petrol. So it’s doable, although it would have been more challenging with one cassette.
- And whilst talking about camping, it’s also worth saying that many of the campsites certainly early April are not yet open. The season doesn’t really start until mid May in Greece. And although some of the campsites are beginning to open up slightly earlier as us snow-birds are making our presence known, this is the exception and not the rule. So do be aware of this as you plan your trip if you are not a comfortable with wild camping.
- Not all wild ‘pitches’ are as they seem. There are some of the most wonderful spots to pitch up on, on beaches close to the water’s edge, although this does come with some dangers. Firstly, Greece is incredibly mountainous, which means that some of the roads to these out-of-the-way spots can be a trek, down narrow, steep and sometimes tricky to navigate roads. So we would recommend parking up and assessing on foot before making a decision to commit to a road that might be difficult to turn around in. These beaches, with their azure seas are a magnet. Why wouldn’t you want to park up close the sea with the crashing waves as your lullaby? Although do check these spots, as the pebble pitches lure you into a false sense of security and are not always as stable as they look. We had to tow two vans out of said beaches because their tyres sank into the pebble floor beneath them.
- Camping here feels safe. We’ve had some ‘incident’s during our 14 months full-timing and although it hasn’t put us off our wild camping experiences, it certainly turns your dial to ‘high alert’. Although so far in our first month, we have felt as safe as any other country we’ve been in.
- Travelling in Greece takes time. It’s a strange thing to see your next destination on the map just around the corner, and then, on putting in your co-ordinates, finding that 30km is going to take you 90 mins! Still, when you see how windy some of these roads are, you will understand why. There is no rushing here and the routes are so magnificent that you will want to take your time to breathe it all in.
Our convoy buddies
Being in convoy is a great way to cut your Greek teeth. We’ve had the joy of travelling with our buddies Andi and Paul, from Followourmotorhome, for the last three weeks. And whilst we are about to ‘go solo’, having a chance to travel new lands together with someone else makes it for a great virginal experience. The support you can give each other is priceless and it enhances your confidence and pleasure in your early weeks.
- Greek customs are wonderful to share. If you come at Easter, go to Corfu, where they apparently have one of the most amazing celebrations on Easter Saturday and Sunday. It’s a short ferry ride on foot or bicycle from Igoumenitsa. May Day is where you will see ladies out picking their wild flowers for headdresses and wreaths to celebrate summer’s battle over the winter. And each morning locals gather at the most charming chapels found along the road and coast, to honour their Greek Orthodox faith and light their candles of remembrance.
- Eating out here is a joy. Slouvaki (kebabs), Moussaka, Prawn Saganaki, Tzatziki, Taramasalata, Greek salad with fresh feta, olive oil and fresh oregano blossom, pitta breads, aubergine, courgette balls and meatballs are all laced with garlic and homegrown love. And it’s not that expensive. For two with a main meal and a beer each, you’re looking at €30. And what is so delightful, is that in each restaurant we’ve been in, you are presented with either a complementary liqueur or a biscuit cake at the end of your meal. We have found some wonderful places, off the beaten track. Some of the tourist places will draw you in with a their sales pitch, where you feel obliged to sit down. Avoid these and go back a couple of streets to find more authentic Greek hospitality in family run establishments. Out of season and in some smaller villages and towns, many of the restaurants will not have very much fresh food in and so their menus may be limited and frozen. You will though get plenty of grilled food, although not the long-baked dishes that Greece is famous for. Although hunt well for your restaurants and you will not be disappointed.
- On a practical note – lamb is really expensive here. I thought that we would have an abundance of lamb here, and although you can buy a whole carcass (especially around their feast days), minced lamb in particular is impossible. Because the meat is so expensive you pay €10 per kilo and given that most of that is bone, it makes for an expensive option.
- Whilst talking about money, the cost of living here is an interesting one. So far we’ve found that food is more expensive than say Spain, although perhaps on a par with Italy and France. Although the Greek wine is cheap, the boys say it’s not great, although they happily report that the Ouzo is superb. You can get a 2 litre bottle for €16. Other spirits are expensive so stock up before you come. Beer is more than palatable although again can be quite expensive. Six small cans of Fix larger is around €4.65. Do try the local road-sellers as their fruit and veg tends to be a little cheaper and more tasty, especially their oranges. Diesel prices vary; in larger towns like Igoumenitsa we were paying €1.29, although further south in the Peloponnese we found it at €1.15. And a lovely surprise has been the regularity of LPG. There are no issues on availability here and is coming in around €0.79.
- So far we’ve found three main supermarkets; Lidl of course are pretty much everywhere and there is also My Market and AB. At Lidl you know what you’re getting as it’s pretty standard across Europe, although the other two have some different ranges on offer and some staples that Lidl don’t offer.
- If you want big shops for clothing, haberdashery, health shops etc, then look for a larger town. In our month travelling south from Igoumenitsa to the eastern board of the Peloponnese, we’ve only come across two big shopping centres, Patras in the north and Nafplio, south east. Whilst butchers, bakers and local supermarkets have always given us our day-to-day essentials, other items like clothing etc have been a bit more limited, so you will need to work your way to a larger town for other essentials and the good old ‘Chinese Shops’.
Sea Urchin, Porto Cheli
If the ocean calls you, you will be treated like a king or queen. The waters here are incredible for all sorts of activities. We suggest that you wear water-shoes as around some of the coastline, the sea-urchins will act out their revenge on human imposters, so take care. There are jelly-fish too, although they look pretty harmless. Look out for turtles as they call this coastline home, evidenced sadly by one that was washed up on shore this week. The snorkelling apparently is amazing, if this is your thing.
- Talking the lingo. We have always adopted the philosophy that wherever we go, we learn the language basics, so we can at least show we’re trying. My sense is that the locals always appreciate you having a go. So I have put together The Motoroamer’s Guide to Getting by in Greek list, with some of the basics that we have learnt over the last month. Although it must be said, that many Greeks, especially in the retail trade, speak a little bit of English and German.
- The Greeks are the most delightful people; warm, welcoming, polite, helpful and engaging. We have loved being amongst them. They invite you into their kitchens, give you tasters in shops to sell their wares and are always offering you something complementary. They shake your hand, smile at you, wave and, there are often impromptu serenades at restaurants from budding Pavarotti’s. If you are ever in need, just ask and the Greeks will do as much as they can to help you. They have kindness at their very heart.
- The Greek economy may be in dire straights, although we haven’t really seen much evidence of this on the whole. Some of the roads are a bit ropey, although not as bad as we thought. Italy is definitely worse! In fact some roads have been recently relaid, making some of the advertised wild-spots listed in books and apps impossible to reach because of the drop. There’s evidence of new cables going in for better internet provision and some of the villas you see here are quite magnificent. The only real issue we’ve seen are some of the hotels in more ‘out of the way spots’ that just have gone to wrack and ruin. Otherwise I thought that Italy showed more deprivation than Greece, so far anyway. Interestingly, we found in Nafplio that they have half day shopping on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday – we’re not sure whether this is because of the economy or contributes to the state of the economy! So do check before shopping. This is not true though for supermarkets, it’s worth adding.
- The countryside is to die for. In our first week, I was so shocked to see such a rich, luscious and diverse landscape. In many ways it reminded me a lot of the Lake District in UK. Rolling hills, stunning greenery, dense forest and so many beautiful flowers. It will blow you away and that’s before you even set eyes on the craggy coastline with azure blue seas that invite you to test their waters and the ancient monuments that take you back to Greek mythology and historical intrigue.
So Greece, what else can we say? It has taught us a new tongue, it has taught us about the art of convoying, how deeply profound the Greek culture and heritage is and how much it has brought us into the heart of the way of life here. It is beautiful beyond any adjectives I could use from the Thesaurus and that beauty comes as much from Greece’s soul as what you see with your eyes. So if you are considering coming here, then do. It is a stunning place to learn about, call home and rest awhile. I have a fancy we will not want to leave. Here’s to more lessons coming in the next moon month of our Greek Odyssey that takes us to the island of Crete and then up the eastern coastline. For now, yamas!
Karen and Myles, The Motoroamers
As those lovely Roman chaps used to say, ‘Tempus fugit’ – and you know what? They were right, time really does fly. I can’t believe where the last year has gone; a whole twelve months has past since we embarked on the biggest week of our lives, EVER!
From the humble and yet inspiring beginnings of a Silver anniversary road-trip in New Zealand, we packed up our belongings, said ‘goodbye’ to jobs and handed the keys back to the rented house we had called ‘home’ for four years. We stuck two fingers up to conformity, leaving behind what society classes as normality – after all who wants normal when you can have adventure and a life on the road? I get that this isn’t for everyone and, if truth be known, four years ago I would have said that it wasn’t for me either. Yet we’ve never been scared to do things differently and boy, this was seriously different.
So on 4 March 2016 we left English shores for our European road trip, yet as we said au revoir to Plymouth’s port, little did we know how life on the road, with our trusty chariot Scoobie, would change our lives, possibly forever. Read more about our pre-road trip preparation and tips here…
As I look back now, on the cusp of our first anniversary, I’m wondering how appropriate it is to celebrate this landmark. Is it with champagne? Is it with a meal or do we simply acknowledge with a huge amount of gratitude how life has unfolded for us? The latter certainly seems like the only way to mark this significant date. No doubt we will reflect on the months that have passed and reminisce over the ups and downs of our nomadic life and the people we’ve met along the way.
Although the thing that will hit us the most will be the lessons we’ve learnt, and are still learning, as we meander our way through this new lifestyle. So, what are those lessons?
Here are our TOP 10 Lessons from our Nomadic Classroom.
1. The first is, how fear can take over your dreams. Fear of what others might think, fear of what could happen in the future or fear of how safe you will be in a strange country. Fears so big, that if not addressed can consume you and hold you back from living the life you deserve. Realising that fear is only a self-constructed thought can release you from its grasp and enable you to live your dreams. We challenged each fear and looked at them with logical eyes and common sense. We worked out the likelihood that those fears ever materialising and generated contingency plans should the worst ever happen. Once you strip away fear’s power you fly free. See more about overcoming fear here…
2. Have the courage to be different. Conforming to society’s expectations can be a comforting blanket to be enwrapped by, although this has its limitations, especially if your wanderlust is calling. We came to the conclusions that however others may judge us, this is our life, our dream and life is too short to accommodate norms that no longer fit your dreams. This is our time to fulfil our potential.
3. Remember this isn’t a holiday, this is a lifestyle. For our first three months, we grabbed at everything; visited every UNESCO site there was and ticked off Natural Parks, cathedrals and cities as though they were going out of fashion. We soon realised that we needed to evolve from tourist travellers into nomadic travellers if we were going to stay sane. So stopping in one place for more than two nights became an important ingredient in our adventures. You don’t need to see everything all in one go. Hopefully there is always tomorrow (finger’s crossed.)
It’s all about balance.
4. Balance is important – learn the art of stillness and movement. Our first six months was a lovely yet a busy period as we not only settled into a rhythm, we committed to seeing friends and family. We hadn’t quite got used to creating a kinder schedule for ourselves. We soon realised that travelling is tiring and needs respect. Whilst we have no regrets of any one of our visits, we could have been more mindful of our needs and stresses. In twelve months we’ve covered nearly 13500 miles and 10 countries during that time, which is phenomenal. Although at the other end of the spectrum we had five weeks at one place in January, which had us itching to travel again. So finding a balance between being still and smelling the roses whilst travelling to a new ‘home’ is really important and has taken us a year to work out. And we think we’ve finally grasped it, although I’m not sure you ever get it ‘right’!
5. Embrace simplicity. I’ve never been a Madonna – material girl, although Myles might disagree with the number of shoes I’ve brought with me. Yet we’ve stripped back a three bedroomed house and fully functioning kitchen to all the bare essentials for our 7.5 metre space. And there’s absolutely nothing we want for – at all. Although what we have learned is to be creative with the resources we do have, be inventive in how we store things and embrace simplicity. We cook more simply, we live more simply and we dress in a way that feels comfortable. We regularly stream-line what we have by doing a bi-annual cull – anything not used or worn during that time is recycled. A number of my shoes have found themselves back in my mum’s care because I hadn’t worn them. Life on the road demands simplicity and it’s such a lovely value to embrace as it brings so much more peace to daily life.
Wild camping in Playa de Carolina, Aguilas, Murcia
6. Wilding versus campsite. Over the last year we have done a fair bit of wild camping, although not as much as I thought we might. I’m not sure it was anything to do with confidence or safety – perhaps more to do with internet connection and a decent signal so we could work. Sometimes it depended on the country, for example Slovenia and Italy don’t encourage wild camping, so places are hard to find. There are some definite periods during the year when wilding is a ideal; Easter, July/August (when campsite fees are crazily expensive and you can’t use ACSI) and January/February when lots of us ‘snow birds’ are looking for some winter warmth. In between, we’ve found a rhythm that gives us a bit of wild camping and then a top up on a site so we can juice up, do washing and get some good wifi. Don’t miss out on wild camping though, as you get to meet some amazing characters and the sites do just what they say on the tin; wild, wonderful and warming to the soul. Read more about our wilding perspective…
Living life together in a small space is doable.
7. You can have harmony in a small space. Who would have thought that two people (or more in some cases) could live harmoniously in such a small space. Whilst we have met people for whom it hasn’t worked out, as it has put too much pressure on their relationship, for us we are stronger. We have found a way to live, work and move around the van such that it doesn’t invade each other’s space and we regularly talk about how we’re doing and iron out any frustrations. Of course during the summer we have a whole ‘outside’ space to luxuriate in. Winter can be more compromising, although we have baggsyed our own ‘office’ space and we have a couple of rules like, only one person in the kitchen at one time and always make the bed. Otherwise we are so pleased at how well we flow, even after nearly 30 years together.
8. Be a gracious teacher and student. We came into our road-trip with a little experience of owning and travelling in motorhomes before. Although having a holiday or short-break to living full-time are miles apart and we never underestimated the transition we knew we would have to make. So we studied, researched and honed our skills before we left and soon realised how much more there was to learn on the road. Like to how fix a punctured toilet miles from anywhere and getting off wet ground, even with grip mats. We really do feel like every day is a school day. Although it’s lovely to talk about our experiences and choices with others, if they ask. We love to share and receive and we have adjusted so much of what we do based on other people’s experiences.
Root yourselves not in one place.
9. You root yourself wherever your tyres stop. One of my worst fears before we embarked on our nomadic journey, was not being rooted in a home that I could call my own. I’ve always been a home bird and loved coming back after a holiday. So how would I cope not having the security of a roof and four walls? This has been my biggest revelation of the whole year really. Roots are not in bricks and mortar; roots are wherever you stop for the night; roots come from your own feet and not from an address that you can return to. Scoobie is our home and he provides our roots and our routes. And although we’re loving this now, it might not always be this way – so when or if that time arrives, then we will create new roots, in a new way. As Paul Young sang way back when, ‘Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home.’ Let go of roots and your freedom to explore expands exponentially.
10. You never really escape The Matrix. And finally, one of our biggest lessons that we learned early on was, although we had chosen to move away from what we call The Matrix (which contains all the ties, rules and regulations of life in the System), actually it’s everywhere. You never quite escape it completely. If, like us you still have a property that you rent out for income, then there are still landlord issues to deal with, bank incompetences, tax issues to sort out and rules that still require you to comply to some degree. So if escape is the thing you long for most, then the harsh reality is that you can’t. The quicker you realise this, the more freedom you will gain ironically. Stress still exists in our lives, although it is only ever self-induced. As long as you still have a NI number you will always have some ties and links to the System. That said, the hoops you have to jump through are significantly reduced, and now our stress, after years of depression, debt and anxiety, are at an all-time low.
So how would we sum up our experiences over the last twelve months? Although perhaps over-used, life changing definitely feels an appropriate phrase. We had a dream, overcame fears, worked together to make it happen and feel grateful for every moment that we are blessed to enjoy. And we can honestly say that we are happier than we’ve ever been thanks to those courageous actions and a whole heap of support from family and friends. We now play hard, work hard and live well, giving life a good old workout. We cherish every moment and each moment inspires us to keep on trucking. May the next year be equally blessed with health, adventure and happiness as we continue our exploration of eastern European shores. We hope you’ll join us along the way. Cheers!
Ms Moneypenny and Mr Rainman xxx