Tuesday, 27 August 2013

OHM Festival, Netherlands

Monday 5th August 2013
OHM 'Hollywood' sign
For the past week Adam and I have been at a very different kind of festival called OHM, Observe Hack Make. Adam being an electrical engineer and having just purchased some little techy projects like the Arduino and Raspberry Pi (I am as clueless as you may be), he wanted to go check out what the Dutch hacker camp was all about. I agreed as there would probably be some sort of pac man marathon involved which you can't pass up on.
All I really knew about the festival beforehand was that it was run by a small main group of people but then everyone who bought a ticket and attended was then also a volunteer and could help out at the festival however they wanted, and there would be lots of talks and workshops on things I probably wouldn't understand seeing as my hacker knowledge probably goes as far as knowing how to turn the screen upside down using the arrow keys.
When we arrived a few days before the events started I was surprised to see how big and organised it was. I should have known that a bunch of people with amazing computer, electrical, blacksmith, logistical and many more skills would obviously want to show this off to their fellow brainy brothers. There were big top tents, LED street lighting, food tents, a 'lounge' tent with massive beans bags and fairy lights, bars and stacks of old TV screens that you could play any game on. A talk on hacking  much easier to listen to when it starts with lazers and a smoke machine.
Lounge tent
I did go along to a few of the more technical talks even though I didn't understand many of the specifics but the bits of the week I most enjoyed were what people presented about 'hacking life', such as hitch hiking, and there was a big focus on whistle blowers such as Julian Assange, Edward Snowdon and Bradley Manning. Another big topic discussed was the war on drugs and how the governments are supposedly loosening their grip on this, as seen with two states in America making use of recreational cannabis legal, as their new focus is the war on terror. It was certainly interesting. 

It was a very surreal festival with people giving out free melon and moatloaf all day, groups making things outside their tents and an impressive lazor show at night. There was a sort of organised chaos to it all, a life size unicorn outside a bar (assuming of course unicorns are the same size as regular horses, I've never seen one), more bandwidth than the whole of South Africa and one morning I opened our curtains to see a fully suited Stormtrooper climb out of the camper van next to us.
We took time out to cycle into Alkmaar, the closest town and I saw my first windmills. Very pretty. Today we found a small lake to lounge by, Adam tried fishing but didn't catch anything. I topped up my tan (first time I've ever been able to say that). Someone even brought their horse down to the lake for a splash around which was very cute.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

A month at home

Monday 29th July 2013
We are currently on a ferry to the Netherlands after spending four amazing weeks at home. Even though we were only away in the van for two months it felt like a lot longer as we were living a much slower pace of life than we were running around in the Alps. There were two big events happening in our lives in July that we didn't want to miss out on and having never lived in a van before we thought two months was a conveniently good length of time for the testing out period before we could go home and see if it was right for us.
The two things we wanted to come back for were my dads 50th birthday and Global Gathering, we already had our 5th year tickets so had to attend! It was also my brothers 17th birthday, my aunties 60th and my dad is a tripet so they were having a big joint 50th. We came back a few weeks early so we could see the rest of our friends and family too.

Chilling with my family and my brother's 17th

Another thing we squeezed into these few weeks is that we bought a new van! The old Smurf Mobile / Blue Beast / Betty Blue van was awesome and we had no problems with it (except our ditch incident) but we realised we need something different having lived in it. With winter coming up and us thinking about maybe taking the van to the Alps when it's colder we would need a van with insulation and heating. We also would have liked a better living arrangement layout as if we wanted to sit down we always had to sit on the bed and there was only room for one person to be stood up doing anything at one time. We wanted to upgrade slightly from our self converted van to an oldish coach built, small motorhome. 

Our new van in the Alps (in the fuuuture)
We didn't have long for any buying or selling but luckily we found just what we needed and within our price range and the old van sold quickly on eBay. I will miss that old Suzie Blue! ;( We now have an 1989 Ford Auto-Sleeper Legend. A small motorhome with a double bed above the cab (Adam finds a little claustrophobic, I find snuggly and cave like), a toilet, shower, tiny kitchen area, heating and a boiler. Woop. We fitted a 120 watt solar panel as well which is slightly bigger than we had on the last van.
My cousin, sister and I ready to partaay
My dad with his triplet sisters
Our first roadtrip in the new van was up to County Durham for my dads birthday. He has a massive family (he was one of eleven kids) and that's where most of them still live. We stayed at my cousins house and the party was in a club hall with a cheesy disco. After a few vodkas there were a lot of of moves being thrown.  We had a big BBQ the next day and it was really nice to see everyone. I have a lot of family up there that I don't see very often, living hundreds of miles south. We also took a walk up to a massive reservoir and waterfall nearby and had a really hot day at Derwent Water in the Lake District. 
Our next stop was Statford upon Avon for Global Gathering (with a quick overnight stop in Wales, boring story involving gas cannisters but lovely scenery). All I can say about Global is that it was as epic as it is every year :) It was boiling hot the first day and monsooned the second but every bit was great. Even when our tent flooded the last night and we had to trudge through the mud in the early hours to get to our van. We slept in the carpark a bit into the afternoon where we then had to make our way straight over to the ferry port in Newhaven to get to the Hook of Holland in the Netherlands for a very different kind of festival called OHM in a few days.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Parc Asterix

Friday 28th June 2013
We have just spent the day at Parc Asterix which was aweeesssooome! I've been to theme parks before but not one that has immersed itself so completely with one theme (haven't been to Disneyland...yet). Apparently in the cartoon, Asterix & Obelix, these two viking guys would time travel to Egypt and Rome and fight the soldiers. The park was split into these ancient villages with the rides themed to them. There were massive Zeus statues and pyramids.

The first rollercoaster we went on was really old and wooden with nothing to keep you in the tiny cart, which is always a good scare factor. I couldn't help but duck as we flew around the wooden structure with massive beams flying past overhead. It made my stomach jump/drop quite a bit though so thumbs up from me. Another of my favourite rides was one where it was like sitting in a sledge where I sat between Adams legs and it was joined onto the track with little wheels on the sides and was like a bobsleigh where you were propelled around the track by the weight of it. Felt like you were gonna fall out the whole time so it was scary and brilliant.

I liked that the park had other things to see as well as rides, like the two stunt shows we saw. The first was in a small circular stadium where some 'Roman soldiers' did a lot of stunt fighting and falling on their faces without seeming to hurt themselves, as well as flying around on wires throwing in some acrobatic moves. The second was on a much larger stage made to look like an old port with a massive metal cargo ship as the backdrop. A painter/decorator was ambling about on stage as everyone was getting seated and then in marched some guards who were meant to be looking after the Mona Lisa painting. Two villains joined the scene trying to steal the painting whilst the painter just generally got in the way. They fought, flew around the room, had car chases and blew up buildings all on the stage and it looked pretty epic. They even made the massive ship in the background sink and had amazing pyrotechnics. There was no dialogue but it was still really funny, funnier than the slapstick humour I was expecting.

We also saw a dolphin show which completely conflicts with how I feel about dolphins being captured for shows. I watched a documentary a few years ago called The Cove and it was appalling seeing all these dolphins being slaughtered by Japanese fishermen when they weren't selected to be bought by park keepers and trainers. I don't think that the dolphins at the park were treated badly but it's how they could have been caught or how other dolphins are captured that is upsetting. Even so, I still had to see what they were up to, no excuse for that really!

We're about to drive to the ferry port of Dieppe to get the ferry to Newhaven, England tomorrow morning. It will be good to see everyone again it's been an amazing few months and it seemed like we were away a lot longer! We've got my brothers 17th, my dad and his two sisters tripet 50th, my aunties 60th birthday and a festival to attend!

St Tropez... sounds better than Grimaud!

Thursday 27th June 2013

After leaving Carcassonne last Saturday we drove a few hundred miles back into the sunshine of Southern France until we reached Grimaud, a small little town across the bay from St Tropez. We are a little bit more accustomed to the heat now and kinda missed it when we were in Carcassonne even though it was quite warm there. Adams dad Jon was just starting his holiday and had ridden his motorbike  through the night from England til he reached the warmer weather and we met him at a huge family campsite where we stayed for the night, Jon pitching his tent next to our van with his motorbike in between as a snore barrier. Unfortunately I found out later that it doesn't work very well! We spent the rest of that day on the beach which the campsite opened up on to, introduced Jon to our boules and Jon took us for dinner where I had the best steak and mash I've ever had in my life.

The next day we went back to the same beach, squeezing our towels into the only available patch of sand left. Or so I thought, a few hours later some women put their towels down to sunbathe in front of us, but they were practically in the sea. Although that was probably quite refreshing as it was boiling. When we had finished crisping up in the sun with had a massive bbq with a looot of vino and camp fire chats.
We couldn't decide if we should stay around this area or move on but because we all agreed we wanted to stay wherever it was sunniest we decided to see if we could find a cheaper campsite nearby. The one we were on was great but it had a lot of facilities we didn't need like kids clubs and cheesy evening entertainment so we were looking for something a bit more chilled. Jon went out on his bike to track a campsite down and Adam and I accidentally found a deserted sandy beach just minutes from the super crowded one we were on the day before.

We had to excuse ourselves from an overly chatty English women who had come over to the van seeing our British plates to head to our new tiny quiet campsite up the road. We went back to our private beach where there was no one to hit me round the head with their runaway pool inflatables and Jon stumbled across the nudist beach round the corner. A good afternoon all round. It was a really relaxing (when are we not relaxing these days though) few days and really nice to catch up with Jon. We filled the rest of the time eating a lot, drinking a lot, making and playing a checkers board, visiting the port and making friends with butterflies which were very attracted to Jons new beard.

Jon left pretty early this morning to meet up with friends at other motorbike campsites and we had a 12 hour drive (shouldn't really take this long but our little old van is slooow) up through France to get to Parc Asterix. A theme park based on the cartoon Asterix and Obelix which I don't really remember watching when I was younger but Adam does. We got a bit lost on the way and nearly ended up driving onto a flight taking off from the airport in Paris but now we're in the Parc Asterix hotel carpark where we're gonna stay overnight so we're here in the morning for a full day of rollercoastering. I can hear people screaming on the rides right now so preeetty excited.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Carcassonne & David Guetta

Saturday 22nd June 2013

On Wednesday morning we left the empty ski resort of Les Angles and took a beautiful drive through the French Pyrenees (which followed an awesome river which I would like to try white water rafting in one day), and arrived in Carcassonne. A destination we chose because it was in the right direction and had a cool looking fortress we wanted to have a look at.

On arrival we found the most convenient place to park was a large Aire in the middle of the town and a 5 minute walk to the castle/walled city/fortress. We were also intrigued by the massive outdoor stage with stadium seating in the field next door where they were just starting some sound checks. We parked up pretty quickly and made our way over to the castle to have a look around. We found that the town is made up of an inner walled city, protected by two walls and a draw bridge, which is where all the tourists shops, restaurants, cafes and craft shops are housed, but has expanded outside of these walls to create the more expansive lower city.

We had a quick look in the tourist information center first and found out we had arrived at the start of a festival going on all over Carcassonne with different music events taking place over the following weeks on different stages. The stage in the field next door to us was opening with a group of famous French rappers that evening followed by David Guetta in a few days time. We weren't planning on staying in Carcassonne for very long, we thought one day was enough to look round this castle, but since we still had enough time before we had to get home and that the castle was free entry, we made a plan to look round the castle over the next couple of days and stay to see David Guetta on Friday night. We were planning on meeting up with Adam's dad the day after somewhere around St Tropez so we would just have to make up the miles that day. I wouldn't say we were David Guetta's biggest fans but why turn down a free gig?

For the rest of the day we looked round the castle, watched the horse drawn carriages, had a traditional regional French lunch in a cafe and then went back to the van to try and chill out but the sound check still going on was quiiite annoying. (Check, one, two, check, wooooo. Repeat 562 times). We decided to try and fix this by getting in a few bottles of wine and setting up our camping chairs next to the vin yard behind us so we could settle down and watch some traditional French hip hop for the evenings entertainment on stage. A few other people from the town had the same idea and watched from the vin yard with us. We made friends with a couple called Phillipe and Sandrine using tiny bits of French/English and mostly hand signs. They very much enjoyed and were big fans of the French hip hop group. (Wish I could remember what they were called...something along with lines of Sexual Abduction..maybe, I really can't remember).

Friday started off beautifully but unfortunately did not end so well. It was a really nice sunny day and we went to have another look round the castle, this time we followed the battlement walk which takes you all around the walls and has great views looking out from them. I can't remember much about the history of the castle because it had been invaded, knocked down and rebuilt so many times by different people but it was cool to see that in the walls themselves with all the different bricks and layouts.

We set up our chairs again to watch David Guetta and it was actually quite a good show and you could hear that the audience loved their fellow Frenchy, even if Guetta himself did sound a little bored, maybe it's just the accent? We had a happy night raving away in the vin yard with Phillipe and Sandrine again. We started to wind down after it had all finished but noticed that the barriers to the car park were up. We had been in the car park for a few days now so we knew we had racked up a small bill but thinking we could get away with it decided to drive just outside the barrier so we wouldn't have to pay, as we were leaving in the morning anyway.

It seems they say karma is a bitch for a reason. Instead of just staying put we decide to get a few miles under our belts and drive a bit further out of the town to stay somewhere else for the evening. It's around 2am by now but after jumping around for hours with all the excitement and loud music we're still not tired so it seems like a good idea. After driving about an hour into even more remote countryside we realised we've missed where we wanted to stay and try to turn around. We're surrounded by fields and on the reverse of the three point turn Adam accidentally puts the back of the van into a ditch at the side of the road, making the front wheels just raised enough to spin on the road and not pull us out. Brilliant, 3am in a ditch in the middle of no where! 

Over the next hour we try and figure out what to do as we don't have breakdown cover (I may write a post on what not to do if you're going travelling in a van soon). We tried waiting to see if anyone would come along and we could see if they could pull us out as we had the rope for it. Three cars did come by, I thought it should be my job to wave them down as seeing a giant blue van blocking the whole of the road and grizzly Adams standing nearby might have seemed a little scary to the drivers, however all their cars were tiny so we had no choice but to direct them down the dirt track nearby to get around us. Eventually we called the AA and advised them we were stuck in a ditch with no cover and in France. They kindly gave us the number of a 24 hour garage nearby who miraculously understood our problem and where we were even though he spoke hardly any English. Twenty minutes later and 140 euros lighter we were out of our embarrassingly tiny ditch. Lesson learnt.

Flashing lights of the tow truck