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More Training

22 °C
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"I think it's about time we turned around now!", stated Lute quite emphatically. I was quietly frustrated but calmly accepted the decision, it was after all only our second training hike. Anyway upon return I mapped out our route using the Google Earth path calculator and to my surprise discovered we had walked a total of 4km, which is not too bad. One of the spin-offs from tonight's walk was the realisation that Victors hip belt can't be tensioned up enough and I am going to have to source some additional padding. Lute also has some minor discomfort in her neck which I am hoping is not going to get worse.

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Posted by Estebaan 13:27 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Training Begins

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Its 2230hrs and we have just come back in from a short 1/2hr trek around Antwerp with fully loaded haversacks. With only 3 weeks to go I have decided to put myself in the role of bootcamp instructor for my slightly reluctant family. We are all in OK shape but we are certainly not fit and dragging around a heavy pack is something that takes some getting used to. I enjoyed some of the looks that were cast upon us, they made me feel like I was wild, free and on an adventure.

The apartment is now beginning to look like its on a diet as we slowly return all the paraphernalia that has been loaned to us. Not all is remaining in Belgium though and I will be picking up a palletbox on Thursday to load up the blacksmithing goodies and other treasures that have been deemed too valuable to remain. Such treasures include two boxes of rock crystals that the boys excavated from a remote abandoned mine we discovered in France...they will no doubt join the tonnes of other invaluable samples that litter the garden in Perry Street.

Max is very excited after participating in a holiday activity that saw him learning to scuba dive in a local swimming pool. Lute is tired, a product of work and the insomnia she has been suffering from over the last 3 weeks.

Posted by Estebaan 13:32 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

2 Weeks in Southern France

semi-overcast
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Its almost a week now since we returned from Southern France and I have been procrastinating over writing an entry. Why? Well mainly because there seemed so much to write about and rather than biting it off one step at a time I have been viewing it as a mountain that I wasn't really keen to climb - it's a habit I should kick.

We left Antwerp on a fine sunny morning towing a trailer filled with bikes and camping equipment. It wasn't until we encountered an unexpected queue at the border that I realised that I had left my drivers licence and passport behind. Anxious I was as I smiled at the French border control, but they were too busy doing a thorough examination of a car being driven by some young ruffians. The ring around Paris was as expected, nasty! Some people plan their journey to ensure they circumnavigate Paris in the wee hours, there is certainly some logic in this.

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We arrived in Vierzon and found the leafy municipal camping that lies on the banks of a main river just outside of the centre of town - a good in between rest stop. Pity the river was too polluted to swim in. I must admit that the quality and apparent abundance of municipal camping grounds in France was a surprise. As we travelled further south we found many in quiet rural centres and they were typically empty and had good locations. I think if I was to travel again by car through Southern France I would combine stays at small private camping grounds with slabs of time open for staying and moving between those run by the municipalities.

The two camping grounds we stayed at were located nearby to the Tarn River on the borders of the Tarn and Aveyron regions in Southern France. If you want more info check out http://www.lafrance.co.uk/public_html/information/midipyrenees/tarn.htm Our first campsite, "the Groene Uitleg" is an unofficial privately run show managed by two friendly hippies named Jacques and Jeanette located just up the road from Trebas. Our camp site was located on the lower reaches of their property next to a small river. It was good to be able to light a fire again, for me it always defines an important moment in a camping trip. Sitting down, staring into the golden flames and regularly mumbling "I hate rabbits" in a futile attempt to send smoke in another direction was the perfect salve for the tensions that seem always to accompany trip preparations.

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The first few days camping were marred by lots of rain and a 24hr stomach bug which grounded most of the kids and me. The reward came shortly afterwards when Jacques suggested a swimming/picnic spot at ruins of an old castle/chateau not far away.

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It was the perfect spot and the dream of any adventurous boy. Apparently the chateau was burnt out by the Germans when they retreated in WW2 and it now is in ruins, semi-submerged in a lake. The exploration opportunities were dangerous and irresistible and we returned three times during our stay to enjoy the environs.

Walking the countryside around the Groene Uitleg and also the following camp site at Albuque was just divine. The small bitumen country roads were lined with old natural stone storehouses (mostly in ruins) and patchworks of green and gold fields. Many of the fields were linked with old unpaved roads which are now no more than paths. The hand built stone walls that defined these paths are now falling into decay, a legacy of modern farming techniques and equipment which have different access requirements. I was very pleased with myself at having ordered and purchased the 1:25:000 maps of all the areas we were in, they were invaluable during our wanderings.

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Perhaps one of the big surprises for me was how quiet the area was. All of the local villages around where we stayed were filled with abandoned houses, many with for sale signs. My preconceived ideas of sipping pastisse in some lively little street cafes were quickly dashed - the villages were dead and it was mid summer. Missing most of all was youth, it has left, drawn by the allure of money and action in the big cities. Now only the elderly, die-hards and farmers remain. However for me, the abandoned villages still had an allure, the result no doubt of a cultural footprint dating back hundreds of years. My views of our common future lead me to believe that there will be, in the not too distant future, a reversal of this exodus and that these villages will one day fill with vibrancy again.

For anyone who is interested in walking through such country (and not sleeping in tents), Yvonne and Michelle (the hosts of the second camp site we stayed at) have teamed up with the owners of six other old local houses to offer an amazing walking trip http://www.franse-valleientocht.nl

Posted by Estebaan 11:57 Archived in France Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Getting Ready

overcast 18 °C
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Max and I have not had any psychotic attacks from our Larium trial (Phew!) and with his hayfever starting to subside we decided that Victor could also start today. Lute will probably begin next week. There is certainly something disconcerting about taking antimalarial prophylactics especially when you only have to take them once a week. That innocuous little pill sure packs some punch and my organically centred tendencies are repelled by the concept. However the alternative of possibly contracting malaria is not appealing.

The boys went indoor climbing today in the south of Antwerp, which they enjoyed. They said they were the best in the group and I can only imagine their bandy low weight frames helped. They have no fear of being left behind with strangers any more and if I happen to ask, they are quick to reply "Yeh its OK dad you can go now!". It's moments like this when I feel the confrontational era of teenage independence dawning. Throwing them into the deep end in a foreign land has no doubt accelerated the process. Antwerp has an excellent summer holiday program for kids to participate in and for only 4 Euro's the boys have access to activities ranging from scuba diving to music instrument making.

I have been busy juggling getting everything ready for our camping trip to the South of France (we leave Thursday) and continuing the prep for the big journey. For those of you who may like the concept of travelling thru Europe using smaller, environmentally friendly campsites you should check out the website run by ECEAT - European Centre for Ecological
and Agricultural Tourism http://www.eceat.org/.

Note that due to the southern migration of well planned Dutch, Belgians and Germans it is important to book at least three months in advance if you want to guarantee your spot during the July holiday season. Even then, some were fully booked when I started enquiring. The campsites profiled do vary in their "eco" extent. The last place we stayed at in Florenville (Belgian Ardennen) asked us to put used toilet paper aside in a bucket and we still chuckle over the concept that they were recycling it.

Our next two weeks in Southern France will be spent at the Groeneuitleg http://www.groeneuitleg.com/ and Albugue http://www.albugue.com/.

Posted by Estebaan 11:14 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

In the wash

sunny 19 °C
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umm, feeling just a tad fragile this morning. Yesterday evening was a blast though my wine consumption and predilection for being the party butterfly meant that there wasn't alot of conversational depth. The four piece gypsy band that started up late in the evening hit a soft spot but for some reason I kept dropping my juggling balls. Of course not everybody could control themselves and hold back on the "no presents" request. I received a very nice reference book called "Handboek voor den smid" from Pee, Pat, Rani and Isa. Thanks guys, I will treasure it forever!

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Of course its not all about partying and the domestics still have to be done. Yesterday I had to punish Victor when he was naughty at the laundrymat......

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Posted by Estebaan 01:13 Archived in Belgium Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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