We were glad to be back in the motorhome by June 2020, but a bit trepidatious about getting back on the road after 3 months of lockdown. What would the world be like now? How had things changed over the past 3 months? Would we be welcomed at places when we stopped? What were all the new rules? We had eased ourselves back into vanlife and full time travelling by exploring a bit more of France but we weren’t sure where to go next. Our initial travel plans & confidence had taken a huge hit, we were 3 months behind our schedule & should have been in Scandanavia by now!
Luckily our friend in Belgium was going away for a couple of weeks and needed someone to look after her house… and her 11 animals! It was the perfect opportunity for us; a safe place to stay where Theodore could join us with running water, flushing toilets and a place to park the motorhome but it also moved us a little further north. We had both grown up with animals; I grew up on my grandparents farm with pigs, cows, chickens and rabbits and Callum’s family always had a house full of rescued animals who needed a home. Cats and dogs certainly weren’t a problem for us but how would we cope with 2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 goats, 2 horses, 2 chickens and a pony (plus Theodore)? There was only one way to find out!
In addition to our nerves, it turned out that our friend had never left her house and ALL her animals with one person/couple before. Usually someone came to look after the horses and goats, someone else looked after the cats and the dogs went to friend’s houses or kennels. Some of the animals needed medication (up to three times a day), they each had special diets and of course, were used to certain routines. There was also the house & vegetable garden to care for. We’d done some work whilst we’d been travelling, mostly online, but we certainly hadn’t had to stick to a schedule or use an alarm clock since last September. We needed a plan, which turned out to be a checklist on our trusty whiteboard! As each animal was fed or medicated we ticked it off on the chart, we knew who had done what and if anyone or anything had been missed out. Being an over organiser has its benefits sometimes, it worked really well.
Those two weeks turned out to be a great experience, so much so that we signed up to a pet sitting agency. We loved being with the animals, even the horses who we’d had the least experience with. I made best friends with one of the goats, the dogs LOVED Callum (as animals and children always do!) and we were getting into a pretty good routine by the time our friend came back. We’d had fresh eggs from the chickens and fresh salad from the garden. We had navigated our way around the area in our friend’s car to get groceries and feed for the animals. Theodore had settled in really well, in his usual laid back way, despite initial excitement from some of the other animals about their new housemate. We’d loved our time in Belgium & it cemented some of our thoughts about what kind of life we want to lead after travelling, but it was definitely time to get back on the road! We have so much more to see and the summer was ticking away. On our way we visited Waterloo, the site of the great battle of Napoleon, we drove through the beautiful Belgian countryside and we found a ‘Bristish Shop’ selling a huge assortment of British groceries. We certainly blew our food budget but it was totally worth it to have custard creams, scones, bisto and salad cream again!
Our next stop was just a little further north to the capital of Belgium, Brussels. Callum had visited the Atomium in Brussels before, but just the outside. We spent the night in the car park next to it and even seeing it all lit up was exciting. What an awesome building it is! Originally built in 1958 for the Brussel’s World Fair it stands 102m (335ft) tall. Its nine 18m (6oft) diameter stainless steel clad spheres are connected so the whole building forms the shape of a ferrite unit cell magnified 165 billion times. The connecting tubes hold stairs, escalators and a lift to allow acces to the spheres which house ehibition halls and other public spaces. It was left for decades with little maintenance, always only intended to stand for the duration of the world’s fair exhibition, but was renovated from 2004-2006. We are very glad they did!
The exhibitions themselves are excellent, chronicalling the design, build & use of the Atomium in 1958 through to its renovation in the 2000s along with changing exhibitions in the other domes. When we visited they had artists installations and a focus on the patriarchal nature of media using the Smurfs and Smurfette (right up my street!). The design of the inner areas is just as cool as the outside, with various lights used to deisgnate each area and access way. Well worth a visit.
After the Atomium we felt like continuing our day as tourists as we crossed over the street to Mini Europe. An attraction featuring a series of miniature recreations of some of Europe’s most famous landmarks including the history of the nations, their capitol cities, national anthems and assorted sound effects. We had lots of fun, especially standing in the costumed national dress figures scattered around the park. Maybe we should have just visited here instead of a year and 15,000 miles visiting the actual countries?!
Touristing done, it was time to continue north towards our goal for the summer: Scandanavia. Groceries (& pretty much everything) are notoriously expensive in Scandanavia so we decided to load up the motorhome with a big shop of non perishable groceries from Aldi in Germany. Jars, cans & half baked bread rolls filled every cupboard, basket and spare space in the van, but would we even be allowed over the border into Denmark? That’s for the next blog…