We’re talkers and collectors with stories to tell about places as different as the Danube Delta, Shanghai, the Lake District and Istanbul.
We travel simply, occasionally staying in the cheapest hotels, but more often providing our own transport and accommodation, free camping in a van. We cook for ourselves, navigate with a road atlas and compass, and like to explore places where tourists don’t go.
Travelling slowly and cheaply, there’s lots of time to buy and cook the local food. There’s also time to read about the places we visit, and to record our observations in words and photographs.
By avoiding expensive hotels and restaurants, we’ve been able to visit foreign countries for weeks or months at a time. The money spent on one expensive restaurant meal might be enough to buy fresh ingredients from a market to feed ourselves for a few days. Likewise one night’s accommodation in a nice hotel might pay for a week’s diesel for the van which provides both transport and accommodation.
We’ve needed to be resourceful, picking up a few words and phrases from several languages, fixing things ourselves, asking the locals for help, and keeping our expectations flexible.
This sort of travel isn’t for everyone, but we’ve discovered that people are interested in hearing about our adventures, and reading about what we’ve seen on back roads in out of the way places.
Coming from New Zealand, we’ve been fascinated by the birds, trees and landforms of Europe, feeling the same excitement about seeing an owl at Troy, or fir trees in the Black Forest, as visiting Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games. Many of our observations are about the marsh harriers, oaks, flocks of goats and sheep, and horse drawn vehicles that we’ve come across, as well as the local people, food, buildings, and of course the roads.
The travel writing covers five years of journeys throughout the UK and Europe, a couple of brief visits to Asia, and trips in New Zealand in 2010 and 2011. We’ve visited many of the big tourist attractions, but also enjoyed tiny villages, markets, charity shops, deserted beaches, truck stops and farms. The former Communist countries of Eastern Europe have been of special interest, and it’s been fascinating to compare life in such different places as Poland, Romania and Croatia.
We’ve read extensively, another advantage of travelling at a leisurely pace, often spending days at a time reading in the van as the rain poured down and stray dogs hung around outside. We took many books with us and were pleasantly surprised to find bookshops with English sections containing fascinating books about the local issues and history, as well as novels. Our reference books on birds and trees, and dictionaries of the local languages were in constant use.
We’re back at home now, with a large vegetable garden, and a kitchen with an oven, fridge, freezer, and other mod cons, a world away from the two gas rings, frying pan and pots we cooked with in the van. We’ll never take hot running water or electricity for granted again. We’re still cooking some of the same recipes, and even using an enamel pan we bought in a tiny village in Hungary.
But now it’s possible to cook a huge range of different foods, try other people’s recipes and adapt them so they become ours. I sometimes get a panicky feeling: so many recipes and so few days left in my life to cook them!
The recipes are for healthy food made from fresh ingredients. Some are adaptations of classics and others are our inventions. I hope you will want to try some, and I look forward to receiving feedback about how things turned out.
This is a new website, focusing on travel writing and recipes for healthy food. It’s updated frequently with stories, recipes and photographs. White Van Acting Suspiciously, an ebook in pdf format, 108,000 words long, with 350 photos, is now available to download for free. It tells the story of our nine month van journey free camping through France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Slovakia, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and back to France in 2008/2009.
It really was the trip of a lifetime, an opportunity to discover much about the world and ourselves, with the luxury of being able to stay as long as we wanted in many places. We learnt about ancient and recent history, saw the shifting boundaries of empires long gone, and observed the daily lives of people living in a wide range of circumstances – from vast apartment blocks in cities to tiny houses in remote rural areas. We never lost our faith in the goodness and kindness of ordinary people. Some of the stories on the Travel Writing page are extracts from the ebook White Van Acting Suspiciously.
Because so much of our life is influenced by books, I’ve included a page of some of the books we’ve read that have influenced our thinking. These range from Charles Dickens’ “Pictures from Italy” to the latest books on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia. Some favourite recipe books are in there as well. As I come across new books I’ll add them to the Recommended Reading page.
The Contact Us page is your opportunity to send feedback on Travel Magpie. I look forward to hearing your reactions to the stories, photographs, recipes and book list.
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