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2013: A Kaleidoscopic Year PDF Printable Version E-mail


2013: A Kaleidoscopic Year 

Barry and Margaret Williamson

'They're justified and they're ancient
And they drive an ice-cream van
They're justified and they're ancient
With still no master plan. 

They're justified and they're ancient
And they like to roam the land
They're justified and they're ancient
I hope you understand. 

They don't want to upset the applecart
And they don't want to cause any harm
But if you don't like what they're going to do
You'd better not stop them cos they're coming through!'


From 'What time is Love' on KLF's 1991 acid house album 'The White Room'. Many thanks to Dan, in whose van, and at whose feet, we have learned much of what we know about the history of music and film, both popular and esoteric, on both sides of the Atlantic ranging over the second half of the twentieth century. We have met for tutorials in Greece, England, Scotland and now we camp together in Sicily.

The events of 2013 were so varied, so unexpected and so out of any ordinary sequence, that they are best presented as a kaleidoscope, a 'variegated changing pattern or scene'. The word was derived by a Scotsman from the Greek 'kalos' = beautiful, 'eidos' = form or shape and 'skopeo' = examine: hence 'observation of beautiful forms'.

Here are some of the pieces of our 2013 kaleidoscope in their different shapes, colours and sizes: shake them and view them as you will. Remember that some patterns are seen only through reflections in the distorting mirror of memory.

Countries: In nothing but alphabetical order: Austria, Belgium, England, France, Germany, Holland, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Wales. Arrange your own order for a journey!

Overnights: We stayed in 83 different places, giving an average of 4.4 days per place: a somewhat longer time than in previous years. The longest stay was at Hannoversche Munden in Lower Saxony, near the border with Thuringia in the former East Germany. It also lies at the confluence of the rivers Fulda (218 km or 136 miles) and Werra (293 km or 183 miles), which then form the Weser river (452 km or 282 miles to its North Sea estuary beyond Bremen). Home to over 700 half-timbered buildings, Hannoversche Munden proved an excellent base for cycling in all three directions.

Campsites: We particularly remember the best and the worst of the year's campsites. The best include springtime at Camping Asseiceira in the village of San Antonio das Areias, in the mountains of the High Alentejo in eastern Portugal near the Spanish border. And winter here in Camping Luminoso at Punto Braccetta, near the southernmost point of the island of Sicily. The first was managed by Gary, the second by Stan: two Englishmen each running an ideal site in a splendid, albeit very different setting. 

The worst campsites have been too many: often they compete to be the most worst.

Caravan Park La Vesima at Arenzano near Genoa was noisy and claustrophobic, its boundaries formed by a busy road and the mainline railway, with a motorway on a viaduct high above and locked gates barring access to a tiny rocky beach. It even had a donkey grazing among the dilapidated self-built permanent vans. Why did we stop? It was dark and nothing else had been open during a 320-mile snowy drive through the Alps from Lyon, via the Frejus Tunnel, to the Italian Riviera.

At Camping des Hortensias in Vraignes en Vermandois (where else but in France – in this case Picardy), we were charged €18 to park in a quagmire of farmyard mud, good preparation for a visit to the nearby Somme Battlefields. The WiFi didn't work, there were no showers or hot water and we were relieved when the skidding van finally pulled the caravan clear.

Camping Drei-Fluesse in Irring, 6 miles from Passau in Bavaria near the Austrian border, was the most expensive of the entire year. Unkempt, sloping gravel pitches grazed by two goats, antiquated facilities, no seats on the toilets, overflowing rubbish skips, and weak WiFi available only outside near the entrance. Except for his thick Bavarian accent, the owner working in Reception could have passed for Ralph C Nesbitt.

Cycling: We rode about 1,250 miles (2000 km) alongside sections of the following rivers in Holland and Germany: Ijsel, Maas, Rhine, Danube, Main, Fulda, Werra, Wiesent, Weser, Tauber, Saale and Lech, as well as the Danube-Main Canal. In Slovenia, the River Drava cycle path gave us many quiet miles. Like Siddhartha's river, they were always changing and yet remained unchanged.

Vehicles: At the beginning of the year we still had our 1996 American Fleetwood Flair motorhome, a 2004 Mercedes Sprinter swb van and a 2001 Bailey Ranger 2-berth caravan.

In its 6 years the Flair had carried us some 36,000 miles, from the westernmost point of Ireland (Dingle Head) to the eastern end of Turkey (over the Tigris and Euphrates to the border with Georgia) and from the southernmost tip of Greece (Cape Matapan) to the northernmost point of Norway (Nordkapp). Time for it to move on.

In its 4 years and 43,000 miles with us, the Sprinter had taken us into Tunisia on its own, returning to the UK via Italy, Greece, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro and Croatia. Later, pulling our caravan, it took us up the Norwegian coast to the Lofoten Islands high above the Arctic Circle, made a tour of Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal and by October 2013 was with us in Slovenia. But it wasn't well, something confirmed by specialist Mercedes consultants in Vienna, Ljubljana and Maribor. It had to be driven back to England, back to Cheltenham and into the hands of Darren and Martin, the Motorhome Medics.

The Sprinter was replaced with a 2010 VW mwb Crafter van, a newer, bigger and beefier cousin. The Bailey caravan too had been replaced, with a 2011 Lunar Quasar 534: a great improvement in quality, fittings and layout, including a fixed bed!

Repairs: A garage is often a good point of contact between the traveller and the local community. Once, circumnavigating Australia in a failing and ancient pop-top Toyota Hi-Ace campervan, we made 34 such visits in 6 months. The most colourful was at Spud's Roadhouse in Woomera, on the way up to Coober Pedy, where a one-armed mechanic took out, cleaned and replaced the contact-breakers, single-handedly!

Although it tried hard, we weren't out to beat this record with the Sprinter van.

Farewells: Ruth, the wife and companion for many years of our old friend and former colleague Peter, died suddenly and unexpectedly while visiting her daughter in Barbados. Such explosive events create shock waves which reached us in Germany, sending us searching for a reason, a meaning – and finding none.

The waves were amplified by the news from Sue in Hull that her father, Barry's older brother Michael, had died following a brief illness. Returning to England in time for the funeral, we were welcomed by his wife Sheila, their five children, eleven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. In the midst of death, we were in life: wonderfully varied life!

The year also saw the passing of George Wardle, a gentle giant of a New Zealand North Island sheep farmer. In 2001, as we cycled round the world, we stayed in the shearers' quarters that his wife Pauline runs on their farm. George and Barry shared a birthday and we all became good friends, staying as guests in their home on our two subsequent visits to New Zealand. Pauline wrote us of George's well-attended 'Farewell', so much better a word than 'Funeral'.

There was a shock at the very end of the year, when we heard from Graham Peacock that his wife Verica had died in hospital. Though we never met this exceptional couple, we knew them so well from the world of motorhoming, their work with the Caravan Club, and especially through Verica's autobiographical book 'The Find'. She was a remarkable woman, a poet who only just escaped being transported to Auschwitz from German-occupied Croatia.

Meetings: Many and varied, with friends old and new - David & Jenny of the Baha'i Faith in Catalonia; John & Lisi in Skibbereen; Vivian & Alan in Cheltenham; Mike & Flo in Shrewsbury; Angela in North Wales; Twin blonde hairdressers in Maribor; Anne Spiers at Ljubljana; the Williamson family in Hull; Peter in Huddersfield; Susan Gino & Maria, Dan and Malcolm - all in Sicily; Peter & Freda and Cliff & Chris in the High Alentejo; Monika & Peter in Aragon; Brian & Pat on the North Yorkshire Moors; Mortimer Moriarty on the Ring of Kerry . . . not forgetting baby Olivia, the newest member of the Sanderson family running the Briarfields campsite.

Ferries: This was a landlocked year compared with the 35 ferries we took in 2011. In 2013, the number was just 7: Roscoff to Plymouth; Holyhead to Dublin; Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead; Harwich to Hook of Holland; Dunkirk to Dover; Dover to Calais; Villa San Giovanni to Messina. Then there was the 'Ferry too Much', about 700 euros too much, that we didn't take for the 80 mile return crossing from Pozzallo in Sicily to Valletta in Malta!

Further pieces were added to the kaleidoscope by small ferries operating on the major rivers of Holland and Germany, solely for cyclists and pedestrians. Some didn't need an engine: the boat was harnessed to the river's current through the cunning use of an overhead wire.

Concentration Camps: There were bright and joyful pieces, shining with life; there were dark and sombre pieces, speaking of death. And none more so than the concentration camps we visited.

The UNESCO World Heritage City of Weimar on the River Ilm in the former East Germany (DDR) was favoured by Goethe, Schiller, Beethoven and Liszt. The Buchenwald ('Beech Wood') Concentration Camp lies just outside. In addition to its own horrors of starvation, deprivation and extermination, it supplied slave labour to 130 satellite camps operated by German businesses, including those engaged in the armaments industry.

Mauthausen Concentration Camp is on the Danube in Austria, only 13 miles from Roman-founded Linz, Hitler's childhood home and favourite city. Mauthausen was a 'Category 3' camp, the severest, where prisoners (including 10,000 Spanish Republicans) were officially labelled Rückkehr unerwünscht (“return not desired”). The 50 satellite work camps included stone quarries and armaments factories.

Ancient Sites: These are the most colourful, diverse and intriguing pieces in the kaleidoscope, each bringing its own story and its own insight into our heritage and our social and economic evolution.

Merida, a Roman provincial capital in Spain, has a well-preserved theatre, amphitheatre, a temple of Diana, the longest surviving Roman bridge, an aqueduct (with nesting storks), a villa, a necropolis and a museum to end all museums: all intermingled with a busy working city.

In Portugal, Roman Ammeia was built in the reign of Nero in the village of Sao Salvador de Aramenha near Portagem in the High Alentejo. Portugal also gave us the circuit of 10 Neolithic Monuments, northwest of Castelo de Vide. Between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, they include Dolmens and the tallest Menhir (Standing Stone) in the Iberian Peninsula at 7 metres or 23 ft.

In Italy, Roman Pompeii and Herculaneum are still being excavated from the layers of ash that Vesuvius dumped on them in AD 79. Nearby Greco-Roman Paestum has 3 magnificent Greek temples to contemplate.

In Sicily, eschewing the Greek temples and Roman Villas we had explored before, we spent two days among the Bronze Age cave dwellings and catacombs in the deep limestone gorge known as the Cava d'Ispica.

Castles: In Spain we immersed ourselves in 13 castles, 5 of them dating from the days of the Knights Templar. Here are the evocative names of these pieces: Xavier, Loarre, Montearagon, Monzon, Ainsa, Lleida, Miravet, Tortosa, Peniscola, Morella, Valderrobres, Siurana. The castle in Puebla de Sanabria in northwest Spain on the border with Portugal snuggles in the foothills of the magnificent rock pinnacles of the Picos de Europa (8,740 ft or 2648 m).

In Portugal, we explored two castles on the border with Spain: Castelo de Vide and Marvao.

Finally: This is our kaleidoscope, not complete but brought to an end. Shake it as you will. As you create your own kaleidoscope, please share pieces with others and feel free to use some of our pieces. We would be flattered.

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Hover on '2013' and 'Motorhomes, Vans, Caravans & Bikes' and then form your own picture.


Working on this Kaleidoscope, Margaret recalled the chorus of a favourite song from her student days: 'Kaleidoscope' – words and music by the American poet and singer Rod McKuen, 1968.

K, I, Kaleidoscope
Love is another color for hope.
Pain is a separate color from joy,
How many colors there are to enjoy.”

In fact, all the verses are relevant to our travelling life:

Come with me, what wonders we'll find,
The ducks on the millpond that swim in the mind.
Come with me, together we'll go,
Where buttercups shoot through the roof of the snow.
And many the sights that we'll see.
I'll look in your eyes and see me.

Come with me, through valleys of green
We'll live like the mud lark deep down in a dream,
Come with me, take hold of my hand
I'll walk you past panthers asleep in the sand,
How lucky some people will be
To look in our eyes and see we.

Come with me, stay close by my side
The road is so rocky, the world is so wide,
Come with me, and we will go far
Far is forever, wherever we are
How wise is our world and how new,
You'll look in my eyes and see you.