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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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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Namibia…it captures my heart

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My husband, Simon, and I suddenly realized that our Easter Holidays in South Africa were much longer than usual (usually around 10 days but this year it is 17).  So we thought we better take advantage and go somewhere and we truly have some gems on our back doorstep from the Cedarberg to the West Coast or up the Garden Route or even up to the Kgalagadi.  We decided to ask the kids where would they like to go (they have been to all these spots) and both emphatically said Namibia!  This partly surprised me as it is hot, the distances to cover are generally pretty vast and you can be in some incredibly remote spots (so no riding bicycles in campsites with other kids).  Yet on the other hand it didn’t surprise me at all!

Namibia truly captures your soul.  We have only done a few holidays there visiting Sossusvlei, Fish River Canyon, Twyfelfontein, Spitskoppe, Etosha, Hoanib, Epupa and have also done Van Zyls pass….with the infamous trailer!

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Our campsite below in the mountains before entering the Hoanib Valley the next day

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Driving across Knersvlakte after doing van Zyls pass.  It was 40deg Celsius in mid winter

But the way the scenery changes so suddenly from red dunes to black rocky mountains to flat grasslands with jutting rocks is truly magnificent.  You literally can’t help but feel very insignificant and small when standing in the vastness that is Namibia and soak in this incredible creation that God made.

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Jesse and Olivia on the pan at Sossusvlei

So in 10 days we are heading back across the border to visit this magical country and my two cannot wait!  I love how they now appreciate being in places with not a soul for miles around.  That time in the car is not necessarily an evil thing, but time spent chatting and drawing and reading or listening to stories (we try not to limit device us to only when on the national highway do those long long sections).  And no, it is not always harmonious, but that too is okay.

This time we are returning to the Brukkaros Crater, which is a very unknown gem not far from the border.  We were there in 2015 for a single night and I have longed to go back with a bit more time to spend. We will try get up to the upper campsite, but apparently the road is incredibly bad.  It was hairy when we went up previously!  We want to do the hike into the crater and see all the incredible crystals in the rocks.

Simon watching the sunset from the Brukkaros campsite.

Then we are going to Luderitz, which we haven’t been to yet, to visit Kolmanskop.  We will take the kids into the surrounding dunes and then down to the Richtersveld while hopefully seeing the Wild Horses on the way.

Now  the food plan and shopping starts as we have to take pretty much everything along.   I love the prepping and planning and food sorting.  I truly believe that just because you are in a remote spot doesn’t mean that you can’t have truly delicious meals.  I am going to try my friends soda bread that can be cooked in a pan on our gas stove.  Am hoping it works out as that will be so brilliant not having to knead and leave to rise and knead again and then still cook in the fire in the cast iron bread pot.  I will post the results when I try it 🙂

So count down begins to the next awesome adventure!!!!

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