Off to Europe – Italy

Helping with Camps in Italy

For the last 5 weeks, our little South African family of 4 have been in Italy at my aunts farm just outside of Rome helping her with her summer camps.  For the last 19 years my aunt Sara has run camps for kids between 8-11 years old, giving them 6 days of amazing farm fun.  They camp in tents, walk rivers, ride tractors, learn to ride horses, spend a night at an Etruscan Antiquities Center, and in general have good clean outdoors fun.  She has 16 kids at a time and do 3 camps in a row between the months of June and July

The grounds that the camps are held on are amazing.  The castello has been in my uncles family for over 200 years and if I remember correctly was built between the 11th-15th century and is situated just 60km from Rome.  On their amazing property Etruscan tombs have been found which date back over 2500 years along with an old Roman road.  I spent a wonderful summer there when I was 11 and have been back many times over the years and it never fails to amaze and is the most magical place, especially as a child.

How does this tie in with us?

15 years ago Simon and I came and  helped with the camps, and this year my aunt didn’t have anyone to assist her.  So we got chatting and decided to take the opportunity to come over and help her and give our kids a different experience and a chance to learn and immerse themselves in a different culture and interact with kids from another country.  We have then further taken the opportunity to stay longer and travel Europe and Ireland for the next three months.  So we have traded in our 4×4 and overland trailer for aeroplanes and suitcases and some new and amazing family adventures.  We have rented out our house for 6 months to help fund this amazing trip, friends have kindly taken our beloved animals (thanks Elaine and Winks) and Simons fabulous cousin is helping to look after our business back home (thanks Bev).

The last 5 weeks in Italy

I think we are still recovering! We arrived early June and had 10 days to see family, go into Rome for a few days and play tourist, and then setup the camp and get ready for the kids.

Looking after 16 kids plus your own 2 is hard work.  Throw in the fact that Italian kids go to bed late……very late, and you have exceptionally long days!!!  We would start getting the kids into their tents around 10pm (which they thought was way too early), and they then woke up just after 7am.  I don’t know how they function!  It must be years of training.

The language barrier is also quite difficult and exhausting.  Our Italian is pretty broken and majority of their English isn’t great, but there was always one little translator who was an angel.  So you have hard work and looooong days and it is exceptionally hot too.  All that aside, the experience was great though but I think I will be happy not to be sleeping in a tent for the next while.

We had nightly joys of the most ginormous toads waking kids, a cat that would come into camp around 2am and then ‘hunt’ our tent straps, the rooster that thought 3am was a good time to crow, Antsy the donkey hee-hawed at around 5am, kids that had sweets in their tents (when they weren’t allowed) and then climbing into bed and finding ants had invaded, the nightly hunting sessions for grasshoppers, caterpillars an any other insect that freaked them out due to the fact that they hadn’t zipped their tents shut, even though we had told them a million times and the list goes on and on…..but hey, it makes for great memories.

How did the kids handle?

Jesse and Olivia participated in the first camp completely as part of the group of kids as we only had 12 the first week.  The second two weeks they assisted us as well as participated where possible as there were 16 kids each week, so the camp was full.   It wasn’t always easy for them and nor for us, as they got the dregs of our patience and our time due to the fact that we were working and looking after the other kids was our priority.  But they were troopers and learnt to be a bit more self sufficient.

  And now…

Our family journey begins in earnest!  We packed up a few days ago and caught our first flight en route to Dublin.  We will be spending the next 3 1/2 weeks exploring the green isle.  We have rented a car, booked airbnb’s and have no plans further than that.  We will also have to start our term of homeschooling this week, which will be something new.  The kids school has been incredibly supportive.  We are missing the whole of the 3rd term, but will do our best to keep up with Maths and English, after that this journey is the most incredible education they can receive.

After Ireland, we are heading to Germany to cycle the Rheine and then renting a camper van where our no plans journey continues.  We will be heading back to South Africa at the end of September.

So come along for our journey.  I will endeavour to post whenever possible, but follow Instagram an our Facebook as that is more of the day to day

lots of love

the van Nierop family – Simon, Tammy, Jesse and Olivia

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Clothing guideline for an Overland Trip

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I am not a khaki and strops and socks kinda girl, no sirree!!!!!  Neither do I need to blowdry my hair and wear full make up but don’t deny me my mascara and nail polish and cute tops.  Just because you have to be practical doesn’t mean you can’t do pretty.  My husband does not subscribe to the same.  As long as he is comfortable he couldn’t care less, neither could our son.  My daughter on the other hand as been spotted in a leotard and tutu in the desert with leather gloves and takkies!

Like any holiday or weekend away, we always tend to take way too much.  The one trip I took my knee high Timberland leather boots!  Yes, they are comfy but flip packing those things was a pain in my b-hind.  So over the years I’m starting to get better at packing for both myself and the kids.  (I do check my husbands packing and tend to shove a few extras in without his knowing.  Once he went with two t-shirts and some board shorts and hardly anything else! He froze his ass off)

When you don’t have the luxury of wheelie bags and a 32kg limit but rather an ammo box measuring 235(h) x 395(w) x 505(l) for 20 plus days of travel with both hot and cold weather, you get clever.  Thank God for the micro down jackets which have come out in the last few years that pack away into tiny bags.  They have made my life soooo much easier.  So we each have one crate for clothes and then there is a shared crate for shoes and toiletries and another for the families towels etc.  So for a family of 4 there are 6 crates that are allocated for personal and then the rest are food etc.

This is all my clothes on my list below in one crate – it can be done!!!!

So here is my do or die live by list for roughly 15 days.  You will need to hand wash whenever you have available water.  If you want a food packing guideline, click here

Clothes for The Pink Puff (Olivia)

  • 3 shorts – no cuff turnups as sand gets in them and usually comes out in the car.  Half of the Namib desert seemed to end up in our car due to cuffs and pockets.  Try to keep to darker colors as they don’t show the dirt so much.
  • 3-4 leggings – I tend to pack more as they back up as extra PJ bottoms. Track pants are bulky to pack.
  • 6-8 tshirts and vests
  • 3-4 light long sleeve tops
  • at least one skirt or dress for the pink puff is essential
  • 2 warm hoodies – no zips because if they need to sleep in them if it is cold, zips are uncomfy.
  • 1 wind breaker –  we use the lightweight ones from Kway
  • 2 pj’s – one short and one long.  I am very strict that they are not allowed out of the tent till they have changed as they then get played in and filthy.
  • enough panties and socks so that if you are not in campsites you have enough to get by till you can hand wash again
  • 1 swimming costume
  • 1 buff/head band that can be used as a scarf or head band
  • Hairbands & clips – if your daughter has long hair, plait it!  This keeps it so much more manageable.  They will stick their heads out the windows of the car and if you can’t necessarily wash it that often it becomes a nightmare to deal with.

Clothes for Jesse (Boys)

  • 4-6 shorts (he gets so much dirtier)  Board shorts are best as they wash and dry quickly and sand doesn’t get into them like normal fabrics
  • 2  tracksuit pants – can double as spare pj’s
  • 6-8 tshirts
  • 3-4 long sleeve light weight tops
  • 2 warm hoodies – again try for no zips
  • 2 pj’s – one short and one long.  Again, they have to change before leaving the tent.  I set their clothes out the night before.
  • 1 windbreaker
  • enough undies and socks so that if you are not in campsites you have enough to get by till you can hand wash again
  • 1 buff/head band that can be used as a scarf or head band
  • 1 broad brimmed sunhat
  • when Jesse was little I would take waterproof lightweight rain trousers, as they kept him clean when playing (you can get them from Cape Union Mart)

Shoes for kids

  • Crocs or strops: You want something a little more covered than a slip slop but easy to put on getting in and out of the cars and that they can also shower in
  • Wellingtons/gumboots or hiking boots: shoes that cover the ankle if they are mucking about in rocks and bush where scorpions and snakes may be, so it covers the ankles.  My kids don’t have hiking boots so we take gumboots and takkies (trainers) but space could be minimized by just having hiking boots

Examples of some essentials for the Kids

Splash Pants from Kway               Jesse lives in his Keen strops       Lightweight Kway Jacket

If you need a basic guideline on kids and their toys/entertainment when overlanding, then please click here.

For the Hubster:

  • 3 pairs boardshorts
  • 1 pair cargo shorts
  • 1 pair long trousers/jeans
  • 5-6 tshirts
  • 1 lightweight long sleeve shirt (great for keeping the sun off)
  • 1 fleece
  • 1 light down jacket
  • 5-6 pairs underpants
  • pj’s – simon takes a long light weight pair of pants that can be layered with socks and the fleece top and then just sleeps in his jocks if hot
  • couple pairs socks – at least one warm pair and preferably dark
  • takkies/boots
  • slip slops/strops – needed for shower and in and out the car
  • beanie
  • cap/sunhat

For Me:

  • 2 pairs black leggings – I take my Nike full length ones.  I can then run in them if I want otherwise they are so comfy for evenings etc.
  • 2-3 pairs shorts – cutoff stretch denim is my go to as they are hardy and don’t get as dirty but they are a pain if you want to wash as take a while to dry.   Stay away from a turnover cuff as sand sits in it.  Short gym leggings are also versatile.
  • 6-8 tops
  • 1 shirt – I find they are great to keep the sun off and cool and an easy extra layer
  • 1 light weight dress – sometimes you just don’t want to wear shorts and t-shirts
  • 1 hoodie/fleece
  • 1 down jacket
  • 1 set light weight PJ’s – I layer with hoodie if cold
  • 8-10 pairs panties – on a hygiene side, panty liners are a must
  • 1 swimming costume
  • 2 sports bras – they are much more comfortable to travel in and dry quickly
  • 1 scarf or light sarong
  • 1 cloth bag to put all your underwear and socks in.  It helps keep the crate tidy.
  • Paez shoes – these I swear by.  Lightweight, they keep your feet clean and easy on and off and they don’t smell.

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    My faithful Paez.  I swear by them!!!!

  • Trainers/takkies/hiking boots – I just take my trail running shoes.  I can walk in them and also try get a run in where possible
  • Slip slops for the shower
  • Buff – I take a couple as they are great to keep your head warm, a scarf and then I also use them to keep my fringe flat when I am drying it 😉
  • cap/sunhat

For the Trailer:

  • 2 sheets – we put them both on the bed at the same time.  You can then swop them round by putting the dirty one at the bottom.  You then don’t need to pack them into a crate.  Also, they are tan color so don’t get as dirty.
  • 1-2 pillowcases – can do same as the sheets or just use one and turn it inside out when needed
  • Micro fibre towels – get the biggest size as they are just nicer to use. They really pack small and dry quickly.  I don’t love them but its functional.K-Way Trek Towel XXL
  • Fleece blanket each – these are used in the car and also to line the sleeping bags for very cold nights.
  • Kikoi/sarong – these are great for a multiple of uses.  If its hot, to sleep under, and as a second towel.  Once when we were in the Okavango, it was stinking hot and there were flies everywhere and we couldn’t sit in the tent as it was stifling.  We would dip the kikois in the water and then just lie under them.
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My aunt and brother hiding under a kikoi from the heat and flies

Good intentions can go awry!

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Grace – our pretty little Holiday 23 who we co own with great friends

It was fathers day a while back and Simon’s great passion and joy is sailing.  We are lucky enough to be co-owners of a beautiful little Holiday 23 which is based in Saldhana.  For two 6ft plus adults and 2 growing kids, it can be a little cramped but it is our stepping stone starting point for our long term family goal, but generally I come away with bruises everywhere each time we go.  I am a clutz at the best of times, put me in a mall space and it is disaster waiting to happen!

Anyway, the kids and I planned an overnight journey to Grace (our boat) for Father’s Day and my mum in law, Caroline, was coming along for the day.  We were going to head out into the bay for a bit of a sail, drop anchor for some lunch and then return to the club for the evening so Caroline could head back to Cape Town before it got too late.  Got to love good intentions!  Thirty minutes into our outing, motoring along as there was no wind, we get yelled at by a stranded jet ski couple who’s motor had cut out.  A 20 minute detour later taking them to Slipway Restaurant where they could get help, we set off again.

Just as we are getting somewhere the kids start to grumble that they are now getting hungry.  We decide to stop at a close little bay for lunch where they could have a kayak while I prepare and then maybe play on the beach after lunch for a bit.   Just as we drop anchor a rolling swell starts to come through which means in about 3 minutes after sitting down to make lunch, we are now slightly queasy and uncomfortable.  By now Jesse, our son, has started saying that he has a bit of a sore tummy.  He’s not the greatest eater at the best of times, so I don’t really believe him (remind me of that later.)  Lunch doesn’t go down overly well.  Kayaking gets shelved as the swell is crashing onto the little beach and it was a guaranteed promised soaking if attempted.  Being winter, not so much fun.  So after packing up and motoring out the little bay we now discover the wind has disappeared completely.  Oh well, back towards the harbour where en route I somehow manage to lose my Paez overboard.  Thankfully it floats a charm so I am able to fish it out with the boathook.

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Shoe fishing!

By this stage, Jesse had mentioned a few times that his tummy was sore but was still asking for treat snacks, so I still didn’t believe him.  Back at the club, we pulled up to the hard (the permanent jetty you can moore your boat onto for a bit) and the kids went off to play.  The rest of the afternoon was relaxed and because the club was so quiet we decided to sleep on the hard for the night and not go back to our mooring.  It means the kids can come and go without having to paddle from the boat back to land etc.  With no more mishaps, dinner was uneventful and the kids went off to bed.

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Good old Woolies, a winner for dinner when you don’t have much prep space!  Rotis with yummy indian…yum

Now a Holiday’s layout is pretty clever for the size.  Simon and I sleep in the main cabin and there is a loo literally next to the bed (obviously there is a little wall) but it is ‘open plan’.  And by open plan I mean the space is not enough to swing a cat nor stretch or actually even stand up straight if you are over 6ft.  The kids fight over the quarter bunk and the ‘couch’ and take it in turns.  That night Olivia was in the quarter bunk and Jess on the couch.

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This is the layout of Grace.  Simon and I sleep in the forpeack (the front pointy bit) and the loo is right there as you can see!

30 minutes after everyone was in bed we suddenly hear the trawlers leave and then we remember why we shouldn’t sleep attached to the jetty.  The boat was rocking like it was a bucking bronco.  And then the rattles started.  Now my husband HATES a rattle.  He will pull our cars dashboards apart to find a squeak or rattle and if he can’t find it he starts to get a wild look in his eyes and a nervous tic.  Now when we went to bed it was so still we didn’t think to secure the boat hook pole and various other boaty things (yes I am a complete boating terminology officianado….not!).   I think for the next hour or so Simon was in and out of bed and back up to deck to find the latest rattle, knock or noise.  All of which are amplified when inside the boat.  Finally we seem to have sorted them all out and are just drifting off to sleep when Jesse bolts upright, runs to the loo, says he doesn’t feel well and proceeds to vomit…..everywhere.  He is standing right in front of the toilet, it is literally right below his face and yet do you think he manages to actually get his aim right?  Nope, he misses!  A lot! And my husband is one of those that if someone is vomiting he starts gagging too.  Put that together with the fact that your face is inches from this delightful spectacle your son is providing…not a good combo.  We opened up the forward hatch above the bed, gulped fresh air and proceeded to put our big girl panties on.

Between trying to change child out of clothing, clean up the mess, wash down the area and crying with laughter because hell, what else could we do?!  You then look across at the partner and friend and realize amidst the calamities of what life throws our way, joy is found in the small things.  That even when things don’t go as planned, hell they went completely sideways, to realize that the planned outcome isn’t the important thing but the journey in getting there.  So choose to find the humor in your unusual situations you may find yourself in, look out instead of in, build memories to last a lifetime, don’t get upset when things might not be according to plan and look around at all that you have!  Life is good and wondrous and messy and beautiful, seize it!

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Simon celebrating Father’s Day after our ‘momentously’ awesome evening

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Carpe Diem Dammit – why the hell not?!

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Last Thursday evening after the most amazing rain snow had fallen all along the Hex River Mountains.  Yes, for you wintery Northern Continental and Hemisphere people this is a common occurrence but for us Capetonians the white cold powdery stuff is a bit of a myth.  We do get some snow in South Africa, regions like the Drakensberg and Lesotho but Cape Town…not so much.  The Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve, just after Ceres, is the most accessible spot for us to go for a day to experience this phenomenon but windows are short.  Once the sun comes out it starts to get drippy very fast.  We have been up there twice in the past nine years.  The first time Jesse was 10 days old and he was definitely the warmest of us all.  We just went to Klondyk Cherry Farm before Matroosberg.  The second time Olivia was 3 and Jesse 5 and we went into Matroosberg.  We thought we would do the 4×4 route but it was pretty hairy and ended up just going along the 2×4 track and it was more than enough for us.  Olivia lasted all of 10 minutes and then sat in the car and cried about sore fingers and toes.  We had come woefully under prepared!

Jesse at 10 days old on the fields by Klondyk Cherry

Olivia (3) and Jesse (5) in their first snow on Matroosberg

For the last few years since then we have been promising the kids we would take them, but after each first snow fall we would put it off saying there would be better to come.  We would wait and watch and invariably there was no better snowfall and we had missed our chance!  Then we would have to say to them, “Next year.”  So this year we changed our tune.  At the first sign of snow up in Ceres, after the first wintery storm came through, we gapped it.  For the day we put work on hold, took the kids out of school and went to play in the snow.  We took a moment and built a great memory.  For what they missed they gained 100 fold in quality family time, rich laughter and life experience!

Okay yes, there are extenuating circumstances which enables us to take these opportunities.  We work for ourselves and our kids aren’t old enough to be writing exams but so often we let things go past us for fear of stepping out of our comfort zones.  Simon and I are guilty of that so often but every so often you get it right and our family snow day was one of these.

So if you get lucky and take the gap to go up to the snow, here are a few tips to prevent miserable kids:

Tammy’s top Tips for a Fun day at Matroosberg

  • Leave really early.  We left at 6:30 am and were there by 9am.  We then had a few hours before the sun came over the mountain.  The snow started to melt around mid day.
  • The day permit for Matroosberg is reasonable.  We didn’t do the 4×4 route but just went slightly higher than the first car park and went along the 2×4 route a bit and walked.  Lots of snow and not too many people.  Cost for the whole family was R170 (R50p/adult and R35p/child).
  • Take loads of shopping packets!  If your kids are wearing gumboots (lace up boots are preferable), put their feet in a shopping packet first and then tuck it into their socks.  Snow goes straight down the top of the boots and within a few minutes their toes are icy and wet = miserable child.
  • Take extra socks, shoes, and clothes.  Jesse had soaking wet trousers within 20minutes from doing snow angels
  • Must have water proof gloves!!!!
  • Sunglasses and hat that covers  your ears
  • Take food along.  You are on top of a mountain on a farm!
  • Have fun with your kids!

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