Gaasperplas Park and Wild Camping

Amsterdan, Netherlands- Once we got our van legs (and officially became house-less) we started our journey into the unknown.  We had to part with some of our fav items.  To think everything I owned was going to fit in the van was quite freeing.  My materialistic nature was hit hard. But once I started living for the day instead of acquiring merch for my apartment, I was launched into a more self reliant, carefree state.

 

The first few nights we didn’t go far, but we did go wild!  Wild camping is simple…kinda. Find a place, park your van or pop your tent and sleep there.   Amsterdam is full of parks and green space that isn’t necessarily meant for wild camping but also not especially banning it…yet  Part of this experience was learning a bit of civil disobedience.  That night, hanging out in the same clothes I had worn the day before, I ate my veggies and for the first time in my life I didn’t have a plan.GaasperplasAfter a lifetime of being told what to do, where to go, how to be etc. by friends, family, the government and society as a whole, I began to manage myself. Sometimes we follow the rules so blindly, without questioning why or how they came to be or who is proclaiming them.   Although uncomfortable, putting myself in a position of unknown outcomes helped build my confidence and acquire new strategies for accepting the world as it is, while simultaneously striving for positive change and real freedom.

 

I discovered some awesome aspects of my life that I was too busy to notice before.  Being a good caretaker for Rolfie and providing him with more exercise and a better quality of life was something that gave me so much joy!  I rediscovered oil painting, crochet and writing.  I began to renegotiate the idea of waiting for “The Golden Years” to pursue interests.  Put off living a full life now so you live your dream when your arthritic episodes are almost as frequent as your hemorrhoid flares!

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Prior to this, my pursuit of happiness had devolved into the pursuit of cash, buying “experiences” or things and showing them off.  Sounds dumb, but even after 30 years, I had yet to realize this was happening to me apart from relating to song lyrics and being drawn to some shitty wall art I thought about buying from TJ Maxx.  IMG_6011

Shortly after noticing the odometer was in kilometers per hour and not miles, I  began to let go of the idea that having money equates to an ability to navigate life.  It is hard to describe the excitement and anxiety, isolation and connectedness I felt with each night’s new destination.  I was finally humbled by life, on the beach, with a beer and my best friend.

It’s a Campervan! Well, sort of?!?

Ganzenhof, Amsterdam- When I first set out to live in the van,  I had to practice a bit first.  Well, driving for one.  Not really knowing how to drive a manual, I kept stalling out in 1st gear.  I texted my dad about the horrors.  He revealed a secret…start in 2nd.  I employed this new tactic I was quickly on my way to campervan freedom, well, “unassuming work van” freedom.  Secondly, how does one find a suitable place in the words of Harry the Cat, (my wild and recently deceased grandfather) to “shit, shower and shave?”  We had a lot of work to do on this baby.

While still paying rent and having a safe place to go back to in case something happened, which it did- we were able to “practice” our camping skillz both in the city and in the true gems of Holland (outside of Amsterdam).  We also wanted to try storing food, cooking and generally being in a van with a large dog for many hours.  Rolfie also had to learn some manners.  IMG_5267.JPG

We took the van for a spin.  “Let’s see how far we can go!” before I have a anxiety attack.  The first place we went was De Hoge Veluwe National Park.  We arrived and these people wanted €20 to enter.  First rule of living in a van, STOP.SPENDING.MONEY.  We didn’t really need to see the park, we just needed to feel detached from city life.   The Dutch are infamous for their BBQs!  BBQ in the park, BBQ in the street, BBQ on a boat.  So that is just what we did.

We drove out of the parking lot and down the road to a smaller lot with good scenery.  We started up the BBQ.  Being vegetarian or vegan was ideal for us because cooking meat is messy and storage can turn ugly if you don’t have the luxury of a fridge. We ate, drank a beer, smoked a jonje and walked down the many paths throughout the village.  I was also crocheting scoodies at the time so we had a photoshoot.

We made it back to Ganzenhof just in time to find some awesome van furniture in the “rest” or garbage as the Yanks say!  If you ever need fine 18th century bujairs or an antique, totally perfect, unbroken mirror just peruse the sidewalks of The Jordaan on Sunday night.  These people’s garbage is any normal person’s diamond in the fucking rough and it is perfectly err, normal to go garbage diving.  Now, living in Ireland, I dream of the day of my return to Amsterdam to load up the van with loot on a Sunday night!

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Maugherow and the Secret Beach

Co Sligo, Ireland- During the week we let the canines run on the somewhat uninhabited Lissadell Beach. And. they. LOVE IT.  Lately we have been wondering what is further along the way and today we took an expedition.  We found Maugherow Beach, and that’s not all!  Loads of people traveling there to play with their kids, BBQ, paint, camp and enjoy the abnormally sunny day in May.

IMG_8747Have you ever arrived in a new place, set out to explore, not really knowing where the hell you are?  We came to Maugherow Beach one day back in November after checking out the cottage by the sea that we now call home.  I had no idea it was the same place, not a “new” place at all.

With my wee caption you get a sense of just how enamored I was with this area when we first arrived. We were lost in exploration,  the winter fog totally clouded Benbulben Mountain and it was so muddy we barely made it back to Kiltyclogher for the night.   Now, a season later, I didn’t even recognize the place.  So cool and still enamored BTW!

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The people here were an absolute delight.  As we walked through the grassy dunes, one artist with her palette and paints scattered, said to the other, “I am getting the horizon, plane and birdseye views.”  The other responded, “Yeah I can see, like, all the perspectives in one.”  If you can imagine.  I smiled with complete joy knowing that here, in this place, middle aged women were getting together to make art and not give a feck! (That’s Irish for fuck, for instance on the radio or in a professional setting).

 

Rolfe was able to play fetch with all the distractions- children, other mutts, hotdogs.  He is seven years old and still learning.  In this video my voice gets so high when he goes so far into the ocean.  I was so excited and scared! Such a nervous nancy I am!  Good craic, for sure!

We had such an awesome day and I am beginning to think the Irish rain is a myth.  It has been straight-up sunshine for a week.

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Note for travelers, I am just calling this Maugherow Beach, I’m just calling it that because it is otherwise unnamed by signposts. If you go through Carney Village, pass Lissadell on to Maugherow and take a left where a sign sits pointing right to Maugherow Church, you will arrive at this sweet spot.  There are also some old ruins that make a nice backdrop on an early winter morning!

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Hope you enjoyed my post! Until next time!

Hillwalkin’ and Cave Spottin’

Co Sligo, Ireland- Michael Quirke, a local storyteller and wood carver keeps the myths of this area alive for anyone willing to listen.  One day while strolling around town, I was lured into his shop by the hand carved figures and ornate storyboards displayed in the window. He began with a legend about two ill-fated lovers.  Diarmuid and Grainne were said to have eloped across Ireland, and their final resting place, a cave- high up on the back of the Dartry Mountains.  Now that the weather is warming up, I decided to check out the magic of this mythical mecca.

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Megaliths are sprinkled about, you can barely see the cave in the cliff behind me on the right.

Walking the lane of Gleniff Horseshoe, looking up at the cave, I imagined how tempting it would be to create a good story from this unique geographical feature.  Once you notice it, you can’t stop peering up at it.  It’s watching you, you’re watching it.  With something more like a soul, this cave sends out some serious vibes.

IMG_8466.JPGApparently before 2015 you could go up in the cave, which would have been amazeballs.  But maybe ruin the magic for me and/or I could fall to my death.IMG_8442The walk is about 6 miles in total.  Today was rather windy and overcast but still worth the fresh air and mountain views.  On a clear day you can see the Donegal Mountains, Mullaghmore and the Classiebawn Castle.  One thing I love about this area of Ireland is that it is underpopulated.  Prepare for a quiet roam with old ruins and sheep grazing.

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Found the shire!

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Super softy

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Geotrees

Until next time!

 

 

Fire in the hole!

Ballinfull, Co Sligo, Ireland- Just days after I got the nerve to post about living in the van, the thing spontaneously combusts!  Rolfe and I were headed to town, I cranked the engine and it wouldn’t turn over.  I tried again and voila! it started, with an extra, special plume of smoke coming from the engine.

I freaked, hopped out of the van,  popped the bonnet to open her up and there was a small fire ablazin’.  Sweet!  I tried to blow it out. (stop laughing)  It persisted so I grabbed Rolfe and ran frantically around the other side of the house, expecting the whole thing to blow.  I spun around and round like a dreidel, dreidel in the meantime calling Molly, my landlady-neighbor to tell her, “The van is on fire!”  Still smoking, I secured Rolfe and decided to try harder to save the van.b76344cd-1853-4dff-a27d-64cf5fe03b2b-4986-00000b04efab6e29.png

I grabbed a hoodie that was still damp, drying on the line to extinguish the fire. Moments later, Gary (Molly’s husband of 41 years) arrived to investigate.  The electrical around the battery was completely singed.

Is this a sign telling me to give up my journey as a van woman? Naw, I think it means fix her up, get a sub-woofer.

A weekend without wheels in rural Ireland was great! Until it wasn’t.  The truth is without my veg going or the hens laying, food was scarce.  We took turns riding the bike into the village, determined to keep the coffee and ciggy stockpile fierce.

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I told Gary I’d look for a car on Done Deal (Irish Craigslist) and done make me a deal!  He said, “Now, I’m not telling you what to do but…” advised me to go down the lane to the neighborhood garage.  There I was greeted by two stately German Shepherds, and a genuine Irishman.  Genuine in the sense that he says ‘fuckin’ every fifth word and has a heart of gold.

Ladies and gents I am the proud owner of a 2003 Ford Fiesta and it is exactly like driving a go cart.  The car guy’s best advice was to give meself! plenty of time to get to town.  I thought he meant this as a precaution because I’d be wanting to turn into on-coming traffic, seated on the opposite side than what I am used to.  Or, I would have to get used to the clutch, but no, it’s because, it literally. takes. longer.  I feel so cute driving it like somehow I am petite. It has a sunroof, but it’s not electric.  There is a hook that I thought was for dry cleaning, or something but it is actually a hand crank which would be life saving in an unexpected underwater event.

I am thoroughly impressed with the Irish hospitality.  It is underpopulated and they make every effort to help you out, make you feel welcome and part of their lush rural haven.  Google actually gives hitch-hiking time travel estimates.  “Eye?” “Eye!” They seem to take care of one another, no matter where ye come from.

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Makin’ it to Mullaghmore

Co Sligo, Ireland- Benbulbin in the back, rocky cliffs in the front, Mullaghmore or An Mullach Mór is Irish for “The Great Summit” and a couple of villages away.  Whenever I meet a local, the conversation usually reveals two things 1) I am not Irish 2) I have not been to Mullaghmore.  With a free day and some curiosity Rolfe and I hopped in the van destined for this famed surfer’s peninsula.

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My iPhone retired itself a while ago, so for navigation I usually jot down the directions and then forget them at home.  Out here, the rural roads tend to be too tiny for two cars to fit fairly, therefore it’s always a game of who has the nicer car.  Generally, I am the one who has to go off-roading.  The best advice I can give for riding around these parts is if the road seems like somebody’s muddy driveway, it’s probably your best bet.

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The waves were dwarfed with no surfers in sight.  I admit, I was a bit nervous, alone, well besides Rolfe, with the wind and wide open ocean below the cliffs.  I was mesmerized for a moment, like the nihilist in me saying “just do it, jump in there, go back to the sea!! let it take you!! Life in meaninglesssssssss!”

I did spot one soul up on the cliffs. I passed him later by the beach, umbrella down, enjoying a little ray of sunshine.  In Ireland it’s always worth it to go out even if the weather seems crummy.

I took Rolfe down to the sandy shoreline.  There were a few signs posted that cattle could be grazing…on the beach.  I kept Rolfe on lead while investigating.  We arrived with windy rain and left the place in the sunshine, typical for Ireland.

IMG_7917We got our daily dose of adorable on the way home.  The new life roaming around this time of year is the epitome of cute.  They use a paint by number system to match the lambs with their mothers.  This kind of takes away from the ambiance of sheep sightings not to mention that this little guy will probably be ordered for dinner sometime soon.  My heart is still warmed by their sweet existence.

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I will return to Mullaghmore to see the Classiebawn Castle and maybe some rad wave BOMBS over next winter.  But for a first run, it was worth the go.

Life in the Van- Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands- I have been hesitant to write about living in the van.  I envy the awesome Instagram travel posts #vanlife and the like.  My expectations were that picturesque pimped out Westfalia with all the mod cons and the interior designs of an Anthropologie store.  Being a novice and in a foreign country I wanted to take the approach like we do in nursing for medicating old people with opioids, “start low and go slow.”

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What van life dreams are made of.

While still living in a flat in Ganzenhof,  I scoured Markplaats (Dutch Craigslist) for a suitable vehicle that I could convert into a proper sleeping mobile. I found a super nice Volkswagen for €3500 in the Jordaan.  The biggest turn off here was that the dude had named it something horrible.  I can’t remember but it was Bess or Sissy…is was Sus, yep Sus. He had taken it for a quick spin to Spain and it had higher mileage than what I wanted.  It was also my first “newsflash!” that I would have to learn how to drive a manual transmission, I needed more time to think.  I also didn’t want to be driving a bright green van around the city, sleeping and working until I got my bearings and deciding where to go next.  I needed something stealthy and not a RV.

Although the culture of campervans and aires is quite common in Europe, it is harder in The Netherlands, especially in/around Amsterdam.  This is common sense really.  I don’t think the Geemente wants a bunch of people like myself living in vans, making shanty towns and going for wild plassens, despite the general tolerance for prostitution, soft drugs etc.  I will say my experience(s) with the Politie and Eurocops in general has been quite friendly.  But, go to France and you can sleep in hundreds of aires for free, Spain, just park wherever you want and carry on.

I didn’t know a lot about cars except that German ones have intricate engines and are expensive to repair.  Solution, go with a Ford.  This sounds very American, but hey! I needed cup holders damn it.    I found the Transit for €1600 and it came with three free driving lessons! No, not exactly but once I admitted to not knowing how drive a manual, Jan (the owner) thought it necessary to make sure I wouldn’t kill people, especially cyclists.

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Who I am

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Who I wanna be

After the first driving lesson in Zaandam, Jan dropped me off at the train station.  Before that he asked me to make the money transfer.  I whipped out my iPhone and transferred the money straight away as HE drove away…in my van.  My heart sank.  I called him hysterical and crying.  Useless shitty wimpy girl I was.  He was totally helping me out with the driving lessons and registering the car.  He said, “Uh well you know where I live.”  Which I did, but I had NEVER bought a car myself, like without a parent or significant other to say “Yes, good job Haley!” typical, I know.  I will credit my mother with giving me the confidence to drive a large van.  In high school I had to drive her van.  We called it the party-bus, it was dank.  I picked up the van after two more lessons, barely knowing how to reverse.  I’ll never forget the back and butt sweat on the way home, stalling out on an uphill, stopped on a bridge letting a barge through or something.  Terror on wheels-it was.   I made it back to Ganzenhof and promptly took a three hour nap.

We (my companions to be described at a later date) started making some renos on the van.  In The Netherlands you need a few specs to register it as a campervan, one being a certain height requirement that I didn’t have.  Instead I insured it as a business van, Haley Wool ftw! which earned me the name “Haley Lawless,” along with making U-turns every chance I got. Alas, transforming the van- we needed a place to cook, storage and a bed.  Now, some campers get a portable toilet.  I have made a career out of cleaning up other people’s feces (sometimes really joyous patients throw it around the place) so I chose to forgo a toilet sloshing around every round-about.  The goal was to make the van sleepable with a bed, insulation, buy a stove and give up all belongings unless they fit snugly in the van.  Plans to install an aux battery were and still are alive, but winter came quickly so we had to move fast.

I bought the van in July and by August we were camping every night.  It was lovely but as the weather changed and I realized I was in Northern Europe, I began to unravel by Halloween.  Planning is key here and a big misstep on my part was that I started way late in the season.  However, if you find an opportunity to live in a van and a willing partner to travel alongside you, I suggest you go for it no matter what the length of time.  As the spring is warming me up now, I am certainly thinking about getting back out of the road.

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The Vanje and the best lil’ camper ever, Rolfie!!