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Temporary Residency in Croatia

November 10, 2017 Favorites, Freewheeling No Comments

We just left Croatia after almost five weeks in the country, the longest we’ve stayed in one country by far. We absolutely loved it and see why it is the new “it” place in terms of beach vacations. We took a ferry from the Istrian Peninsula (Pula is where we stayed for two nights) out to the islands and then returned to the mainland after 3+ weeks of island hopping. The mainland alone has 1,104 miles of coastline. On the islands, the waterfront bliss is pretty much endless. Quaint little towns line the coast and hillsides and you just can’t believe the beauty.

No Stress on Cres

No Stress on Cres


Losinj, The Island of Vitality

Losinj, The Island of Vitality


Baska, on Krk Island

Baska, on Krk Island


Rab, The Happy Island

Rab, The Happy Island


Novalja, Pag Island

Novalja, Pag Island

Great big caveat: we were here in the off-season. Not just barely past the high season, the OFF-season. We arrived on October 4. Many (now most) campgrounds, restaurants/bars, markets were/are closed for the season. All of the beaches are empty. While I am still mourning a summer devoid of hot, sandy beaches and warm water, I found comfort in warm afternoons and having entire villages to ourselves.

From what we read and heard from locals, we would have been miserable in Croatia in the summer. “What you see here,” referring to any given beach, “every spot taken! You could not find one place to sit down – and would never be able to park this big van! Pfft – and no dogs allowed!” As it is, we parked overnight right on the waterfront, where it was quiet and secluded. We enjoyed happy hour with Miles on the beach, bringing our chairs and drinks, throwing the ball for him. He was happy, we were happy. Life is good!

Camping Stoja, Pula

Camping Stoja, Pula




Things we loved:

  • The scenery. From the small towns dotting the coastline to the hills and mountains that rise from the sea, it’s so stunningly beautiful. Even if the buildings themselves are somewhat run-down, the red roofs that dot the landscape are visually appealing. And where we went, there’s water everywhere. Waking up to a sea view, riding my bike along the water and on hills where there’s a view of the sea all around, running on a waterfront promenade… I mean, come on. This is my kind of place!


  • The people. People seemed to go out of their way to help us, and with a genuine smile. Whether it was navigating on unmarked trails, parking our big van, or accommodating Miles, we felt very welcome here. We met locals and other tourists who were anxious to chat with us and share their tips and suggestions on where to go next and what to expect. We met fun people who were happy to buy us a drink to keep the night going, chatting about anything and everything. Whether we were in big cities like Zadar, Split, or Dubrovnik, or the small villages on the islands, we enjoyed ourselves even more because of the kind and helpful people.


  • English is prevalent. The small villages on the islands accommodate a lot of European tourists, and English is often the common language among them all. In the bigger cities, English is written (signs, menus) and spoken everywhere. If not, we got by on smiles, gestures, and Google Translate.


  • Cheap drinks. We drink beer and wine. At restaurants and in grocery stores, these items are quite inexpensive. So inexpensive, in fact, that I lost my perspective. “Can you believe they are charging 18 kuna for this glass of wine? This place is expensive!” Then I reminded myself that 18 kuna is the equivalent of $2.77 and ordered another. In the grocery stores, I would buy box wine and was able to score a 10L box for 69 kuna. That’s 13.3 bottles of wine for $10.63. And it’s a good daily drinker! My go-to wine has been a boxed Vranac, which I can find for $7.55 for 3L. Done and done, time and again. Greg’s beer runs about $1.50 for a half-liter bottle or can in the grocery store and is 18-20 kuna in restaurants. Drink up!


  • The pizza. We eat a lot of pizza. I’ll get to the main reason below, but we would go to a restaurant and each order a pizza that’s 14″ in diameter — G always orders the frutti di mare and I always get the vegetable. Each pizza costs 50-60 kuna. That’s $7.70 to $9.24 in USD. And the kicker is that it’s so big that we would usually only eat half of the pizza in one sitting, so we’d have another meal waiting for us in the fridge. At that price, we couldn’t afford NOT to eat pizza for almost every meal! (Between the two of us, I can’t believe we don’t have a single picture of pizza!)
  • Water is everywhere. I’m not talking about the Adriatic Sea this time. I mean that we had access to potable water — for free — at every gas station, as well as at several places in each town and/or along the highways. We’ve got a 40-gallon tank and we do our best to conserve. But as any #vanlifer knows, where to get water is always on your mind.



Things we don’t love:

  • The price of gas. Fuel is quite expensive everywhere in Europe ($5-6/gallon) and it’s no different here. So it’s not something we disliked specifically about Croatia, it’s just worth noting as a general dislike.
  • The limited cuisine options — and no spicy condiments! This is why we ate so much pizza. Even in the cities we visited, the variety was really lacking. We would have loved to see a taco truck parked on the corner! What we would have done for a quick pad Thai or curry! Greg ordered a hamburger a couple of times and was really disappointed, so he stopped ordering it. There’s fresh seafood on the menu at most places, but they want over $20/plate and any side dishes are extra. We’re on a budget and don’t want to spend that much for a quick lunch, so we opt for pizza.
  • Rocky beaches. This is really stretching as a dislike, if only to come up with a third item for the list. In an ideal world, the miles and miles of beaches would be sandy. In Croatia, most of the beaches are rocks or pebbles, which isn’t ideal.

FullSizeRender (12)

During our stay, we paid almost as much for ferries as lodging fees. We spent eight days in paid lodging (which is average for the three months), costing $262. We took six ferries, costing $180. It’s the cost of doing business, and we were very happy with the mix of staying at campgrounds or apartments versus free camping, and the opportunity to visit all the islands was well worth the ferry expenses.

Our last stop in Croatia was Dubrovnik. We spent two days touring the city, including hiking up to Fort Imperial for a view of the city from above. It was windy and cold, but so worth the trek up the mountain.


We said farewell to Croatia during a strong thunderstorm and headed to Montenegro, a stop on our way to Greece. From there, the plan is to take a ferry to the boot of Italy. Adventure awaits!


Finding Favorites

August 28, 2017 Food, Freewheeling No Comments

Greg’s sister kindly asked if there’s anything she could send from the States, a care package of favorites we were missing. I thought about it, and the answer is no.

It’s funny how you learn to adapt. I’m not going to lie — I reeeaalllly miss “real” Huy Fong Sriracha, but have made do with what they sell here; one brand is better than the other. I’ve even found legit Tabasco (and carry it in my purse for when we eat at restaurants).


As for the other things I favored at home, I haven’t found dark chocolate peanut butter cups here, but have reacquainted myself with Riesen dark chocolate caramels (my grandma used to buy them) and found a delicious treat called Cocos Flocken, which are dark chocolate covered coconut stars. It’s basically a small Mounds candy. Sadly, I’ve only found these in one store and now I’m rationing them because I’ll be sad when the last one is eaten.


We like to keep mixed nuts on-hand for a quick snack. These are easy enough to find everywhere, and the price seems lower than in the US. We were served a small dish of “crunch nuts” with our beer at watering hole in Ophoven, Belgium and we took a shine to those. They are basically peanuts covered in some crunchy coating and then dusted with spicy paprika (pepper) powder. Yum!


Malibu rum is expensive here and we already have space constraints as it relates to storing beverages, so I am not able to enjoy my Malibu/La Croix cocktails. Instead, I buy the super cheap frizzante wines (literally $1.50 to $3 for 750ml) as a refreshing “day drinker.” They’re like a flavored sparkling wine with a low alcohol content. I miss my faithful Cocobon red wine, and I have taken to buying red wine by the box. It’s a much better value that way, it stores easily, and the selection is quite good.

G had a hard time finding beer to his liking in Germany, but has had better luck through Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. He generally likes a darker beer, but enjoys a light shandy or radler as a day drinker. It seems that no two grocery stores carry the same things, so we get to try a lot of new things every time we shop.

All the different grocery chains we have shopped at have a varied selection of pre-made salad kits. These are a go-to for us (supplemented with extra greens) because we don’t have enough room to store all the ingredients it would take to make just one big salad (greens, chopped veggies, beans, protein, etc.) on top of the other meals we are planning for. These have been great for driving days when we don’t want to spend additional money, not to mention prep time and cleanup. The Asian Chicken Lunch Salad turns into a tasty stir fry dinner by adding a bag of pre-cut stir fry vegetables and cooked chicken left over from another meal.


The rest of what we eat is pretty basic and not unlike what we’d have at home: sandwiches for lunch, a protein and a vegetable for dinner, pita pizzas, lentil tacos, soup or pasta when we’re lazy or out of fresh food. We miss our favorite local restaurants, but have enjoyed some delicious food with the help of friends’ recommendations (and Google, of course).

I really appreciate Rhonda’s gestures, but I am enjoying finding new favorites — and will look forward to those peanut butter cups upon our return to the States.


Holland Haikus

August 17, 2017 Fun No Comments

The Netherlands has been good to us and we were sad to leave its beautiful countryside, its lovely people, and our unlimited wi-fi.


One thing I am not sad to say goodbye to is the wind! I thought I had been on windy rides during Ironman training on the Pacific coast, during races, riding across Iowa. The Netherlands wins the wind war. To pass the time while riding into these punishing winds, I took to writing haikus.


The wind in Holland
Relentless in its blowing
Makes cycling harder

One must love cycling
Enduring the Holland wind
How many more miles?

The hills are calling
At least there will be less wind
Suffer differently

Wide open spaces
Remind me of Iowa
With far more windmills

Windy Holland ride
A big help on the way out
A bitch coming back

Flat landscape seems nice
Windmills and canals and dikes
Motherfucking wind


Even Greg got in on the action:

Equipment matters
The wind is nothing to me
Aerobars are friends


Back with Basecamp

August 10, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

Greg found these decals that cover the Ford emblem, so now our van is called Basecamp. It works!


After spending a full month apart, we were nervous and excited to see what awaited us when we were finally reunited at the Port of Antwerp. To recap: we had to drop the van at the Port of Baltimore on June 30 to be compliant with having it there five business days from the shipping date. It was supposed to take two weeks to cross the Atlantic, but we got word that our ship got bumped from the shipping order and it would be three weeks. A lot of rushing for no reason — BOOOO! In the end, we were able to pick the van up on July 31. Not ideal, but also nothing we could do.

So we kept paying for lodging, riding our bikes, and enjoying our time in Belgium.


In addition to working with (and paying) a shipping company (and a TWIC), we worked with (and paid) a receiving company to take care of all the paperwork and whatnot, and our contact was wonderful. Thank you, Rita! It took almost three hours of waiting/worrying/driving/waiting/worrying, but Greg was finally able to go into the huge parking lot and drive Basecamp out of there.


While G was getting the van, I took the opportunity to let Miles out of the car and walk him around the parking lot. When he heard/saw the van coming down the driveway, he jumped off the ground and pulled at his leash to chase it. He recognized his home!


One of the things they make you do when you drop it off on the shipping end is remove the license plates. While Greg went to work re-attaching our California plates, I went to work looking things over. We were more than a little bit surprised and utterly delighted that everything was as we had left it. We had packed that thing to the gills and nothing was missing or damaged — most importantly G’s mountain bike.

We still had the rental car that needed to be returned to Cologne the next morning, so we caravanned from Antwerp back to Ophoven, Belgium, which is a waterfront locale that was near where we had stayed at one of our stops along the way. It got us closer to Cologne to drop the rental car the following morning, and gave us the perfect backdrop for our first night of wild camping in Europe.


Let #vanlifeeurope begin!


I Woke Up Like This

July 28, 2017 Fitness, Fun 1 Comment

Greg and I went out for a long bike ride on Wednesday. The route took us along the river and canals that run the border between Belgium and the Netherlands. We had to take a ferry across the canal at one point and I was chatting with another cyclist as we crossed. As we disembarked the ferry, he turned to me and said, “Let me be the first to welcome you to Holland.” Yay – another new country for me!

Welcome to Holland!

Welcome to Holland!


The bike trail that I had been riding on was paved and flat and glorious. You could see for miles around and the scenery was stunning. In all honesty, it looks like Iowa! I have several friends riding RAGBRAI this week and I felt like I was riding with them (except without 10,000 other cyclists and Mr. Pork Chop waiting in the next town).

Corn fields for miles

Corn fields for miles


And onion fields, which is more like central California

And onion fields, which is more like central California


As I was cruising down the path at a fast pace, a bee slammed into my face, just at the base of my left nostril. It hurt like a bitch! Instant stinging (surprise!) and my eyes were watering as I continued pedaling and rubbing my face to make sure I had gotten it off me and the stinger wasn’t still in there. I haven’t been stung by a bee since I was a young kid and I quickly remembered how not fun it was. The area didn’t swell up or become inflamed, so I forgot about it. I even forgot to mention it to Greg until later that evening. “Oh yeah, I got stung by a bee and it hurt like a bitch.”

The rest of the ride was mostly uneventful. More beautiful scenery. A chat with (and assistance from) a lovely Belgian couple who helped navigate an unmarked detour. Sunny skies for the first time in a week.

This bridge was part of the detour

This bridge was part of the detour


I woke up this morning (today is Friday) looking like I’d had a stroke. Or that my attempts to look like Kylie Jenner didn’t turn out as intended.

don't hate me because i'm beautiful

don’t hate me because i’m beautiful


WTF, delayed-onset allergic reaction?!

I think you can kind of see the spot where the stinger entered if you look really closely under my left nostril, which is totally a place that I want people paying close attention to on any given day.

Just because it’s funny, I took the below picture first. I had to take a second picture in better lighting conditions (and with a slightly better expression) because this looks like a mug shot taken at 3 AM after a bar fight. My mouth is already crooked, and the puffy lip on the left side just exacerbates the whole thing.

inmate number 260717

inmate number 260717


So, as was the case with poison oak (which I was never allergic to as a kid), I guess that I have developed a mild allergy to bee stings in my old age. Good to know! I’m glad it’s just a mild allergy, because my reaction to poison oak is now violent. This doesn’t hurt or itch, so I guess I got off easy.


Hurry Up and Wait

July 20, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

“Hurry up and wait” has been the motto of our adventure thus far.

We really had to rush to get to the east coast in six days, which was a timeline put upon us by U.S. Customs at the Port of Baltimore. The vehicle needed to be at the port five business days ahead of the ship date of July 8. Because of the Fourth of July holiday and the preceding weekend, that meant June 30. So we rushed those 3000 miles and got the van dropped off, only to have 10 days to hang out on the east coast before our flight to Germany.


The Port of Baltimore * Packing quickly and choosing the wrong footwear * Greg and Miles in the James River (Richmond, VA) * Miles making sure G doesn’t get lost on a dirt path

After spending the weekend in Baltimore, we were fortunate to spend July 2-6 in Oak Ridge, NC with Greg’s sister’s family. We were also fortunate to be able to borrow a car from them, both of these things saving us several hundred dollars in lodging and car rentals. Thank you, Rhonda and Peter! Greg’s parents drove up from Asheville to visit with us there, saving us several additional hours in driving.

We spent July 7-10 in an AirBnB in Baltimore, buttoning up last minute things and preparing to say farewell to the United States.


G entertaining his family in NC * Enjoying Dom Perignon in Baltimore * M fussing over Miles at the airport * G’s creative tagging of Miles’ crate

The timeline on the van was originally scheduled as two weeks at sea, arriving in Antwerp on July 22. We figured we would use the 11 days in Europe to acclimate a bit, sort out our visa situation, and catch up on work. We have accomplished two out of the three (the visa situation is still unsorted), but got word from the shipping company that our vessel was pushed back in the arrival order and it won’t come in until July 28. We won’t be able to get it until July 31 at the earliest.


It isn’t that we aren’t enjoying our time exploring new places and having room to spread out in the hotels and AirBnB apartments that we have rented. It’s that we’re paying a significant amount of money for lodging and car rentals while we wait for our self-contained rolling home. And we’re just a little bit bitter about having to rush out of California, only to spend another month waiting…

It’s out of our hands and we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing until our ship comes in. We go to bed when we are tired, we wake up when we’re rested. It’s nice not using alarm clocks! We are mixing it up by eating local fare and cooking at home. Oh, and swimming/biking/running — these are some of the things we do best!


What’s Our Plan?

July 17, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

Probably the most common question we get is: Do you have a plan once you get over there?

The short answer: No.

In all honesty, the amount of planning and preparing and working and organizing that went in to just leaving California left absolutely no time for anything beyond that. As we left our home and started driving on that Saturday afternoon, we knew we’d stay in Tahoe that night, but that was as far as it went.


From there, we gauged how far we thought we needed to go to get to the next place in order to make it to Kansas City by Tuesday. Once in KC, we gauged how far we needed to go to get to Baltimore by Friday. Once we got to Baltimore, we had a few days to relax a little bit on the get-farther-faster front, but still had so many hurdles in front of us related to getting Miles’ health certification, finding lodging until our flight departed on July 10, finding lodging for the first couple of nights in Frankfurt, more research on our long-term visas, and about a hundred other miscellaneous items that tend to pop up when you’re out of your comfort zone.


Now that we’re on this side of the pond, let’s revisit the question: Do we have a plan?

The short answer: No.

We’re still researching a million things a day — where to buy groceries, what restaurant to eat at, where to go next as we make our way to Antwerp, how much is XYZ going to cost, safe cycling/running routes, what kind of tick is this, should we buy local SIM cards, can I have a new debit card sent to me because mine was hacked the day before we left — which is time consuming. We’re also working real/paid jobs, running/riding/swimming with Miles to get some exercise every day, and trying to live like normal people. We don’t know what normal is yet, and we’re trying to figure it out.

We’ve been staying in AirBnB apartments since we got to Germany and have had some really great luck in that regard. We’re dying to get our van off the ship, though we got some bad news that it might be delayed an extra week from what was originally quoted. Booooo. So while this is the new normal, it’s the new normal for now. We’ll have to figure it out again once we get back into the van.

I honestly can’t believe that we have been in Europe for only six days. NOT EVEN A WEEK. In some ways, the days are so long: we don’t speak the language and we don’t know where we’re going. At the same time, I can’t believe how fast the days are going. I look at the things that are left on my list for the day, only to find it’s way past my normal bed time of 10 PM.

Miles is handling the lack of plan remarkably well. As long as we’re all together, he’s fine. We started to get worried about a little bit of separation anxiety, just because there was so much change once we dropped the van off. But he has really adapted well and we’re never gone long enough on an errand or whatever to make him concerned about us not coming back.


I’m trying to take a page from his book and just figure out the most important things everywhere we go: Feed me! Where’s the bathroom? Let’s play! Let’s sleep!



I have more stories of our cross-country travels and things we’ve seen along the way. And I promise to provide an update on what our plan is once we get back in the van. This is part of the fun, right? Just taking it as it comes and going with it — as long as there’s booze and snacks!



*Almost* Final Van Pics

July 14, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

The adventure is underway! And unless you follow me on Instagram, you may be thinking that we’ve been living in a half-built van. I assure you that we are not.

These pics were taken in April and so much has been done since then. But alas, here’s what it looked like at ~85% done:

IMG_1038 (1)

The back of the van now has a ladder on the left door for access to the roof rack, skylight, and solar panel.


The garage is built to store two mountain bikes and two road bikes, each in a separate drawer that pulls out for access. On the far right wall is storage for four sets of skis (two downhill skis, two XC skis). There is a cubby beneath the skis for miscellaneous items like ski boots, cycling gear, hoses, etc. To the left of the bikes is where Miles’ crate goes, with an inflatable kayak nestled inside. Other miscellaneous gear gets tucked into the open spaces.

It’s not shown in this picture, but Greg built two storage bins just under the bed platform on the left. These bins hold ski poles, kayak paddles, and ski chairs. He’s done a great job of maximizing the space in the garage, which is complete with overhead lighting.

Also not shown, Greg affixed two rows of those over-the-door shoe pockets on the lower half of both doors. Perfect for small tools, cycling gear, shower supplies, etc. If you zoom in on the right side of the garage, you’ll see a water pump and hose that we use to wash the dog, any messy gear, and will be used for our showers. Yes, it is equipped with hot water. It isn’t there in the above picture, but Greg has since installed a clamp above the window on the right side to give us hands-free showering. There’s a pop-up “cubicle” for privacy (though it’s likely we’ll just shower in our bathing suits).


This is the view from the sliding side door. The couch wasn’t finished when I took these pictures. Greg bought new leather captain’s chairs and ordered fabric that matches it for the couch. Greg did the carpentry on the couch frame and we had a local upholsterer make the cushions. The seat of the couch opens up for storage.


We have storage in the space above the window that’s above the couch. This is open storage that we have put small bins in for holding stuff we access most often: dog bags and Chuck-It balls, head lamps, chargers, etc.IMG_1023

The new leather seats look so much better than these, and they are way more comfortable — except for the head rests. They’re too far back for actually resting your head if you’re driving. Greg also thinks the arm rests are too short, but we usually have a dog there acting as an arm rest anyway. Greg built a platform for Miles that puts him seat-level with us; otherwise, he’d be sitting on my lap the whole time. It’s sweet and I love him, but 80 pounds gets to be too much.

The battery pack and the inverter are underneath the seats. More on this in another post later (probably/hopefully). Greg installed the swivel seat bases, which really does make the “living room” feel spacious. Humor me. I realize that we are living in approximately 50 square feet and “spacious” is a relative term!

We ordered the van with the most basic trim packages, knowing we’d be swapping things out. Greg also took out the factory radio system shown in the above pic and installed a custom touch screen with Bluetooth integration to his phone and navigation programs.


The kitchen features a two-burner gas stove and small sink, complete with soap dispenser (custom-installed, of course). That glass lid folds down to be flush with the countertop when not in use. Just below the sink/stove, there is a panel of switches with controls for lighting, a USB outlet, and on/off switches for the water pump and refrigerator.

The three drawers hold stuff like kitchen utensils, cookware, and a few tools. The cabinet under the sink has a custom-built garbage+recycling bin, the circuit panel for the switches, the on-demand water heater, and the water pump. Oh, and a fire extinguisher. On the floor behind the large wooden panel is our 40-gallon water tank and propane heater. Above the water tank is deep storage (our pantry), accessed through a trap door in the countertop.

Speaking of the countertop, it’s aluminum. We really wanted stainless steel, but getting it flush-cut to fit exactly proved to be too much work and/or expense, so we went with the next best option. I love how it turned out!


Across from the sink/stove is an upper storage cupboard (probably for bathroom essentials), the refrigerator, a spice cabinet, and storage for the toilet. The toilet slides out of that little cubby and then slides back in to be out of sight and mind. Not shown, we also have a toaster oven that is bolted on top of the storage cabinet. Don’t worry — Greg took it apart to add fireproof insulation and it’s safe!

The vertical part of aluminum (that acts kind of like a backsplash) is actually the foot of the bed. We bought a queen size foam+latex mattress from IKEA and cut ~14″ off the foot of the bed, then cut that in half width-wise and had an upholsterer cover those two “cushions” with duck cloth. When it’s time for bed, we fold down the backsplash, place the cushions, and pull the bed linens over the cushions. When not in use for sleeping, one cushion is used for Miles’ platform in between us in the cockpit, and the bed turns into a seated lounge area with the other cushion and bed pillows as a back rest. You can see a little bit of how that works in the above picture, but I’ll get better photos when we get the van back.


Our closets are next to the bed. Greg gets the far left one, I get the middle one, and we share the far right one for hanging clothes. Each cubby is equipped with a light (switch on the far right of the pic). The tambour doors slide up and down and look really sharp when they’re closed.

That’s it! I’ll get updated pictures (and hopefully a video tour) posted when I can. I do plan to post more of the in-progress photos and notes for others who are interested in seeing everything that went into this build-out. I know more people are interested in what we’re doing now as we travel, so it will be a balancing act. If you have any specific questions about what we’ve done, please post a comment and I’ll get back to you.


This is a picture my mom took as we were getting ready to roll out of Lenox. Don’t look too closely, as both Miles and Greg are blinking. Ha!

While we had done a couple of quick recon missions over to the coast to test out the van, it definitely got the acid test when we headed out on a 3000+ mile adventure across the country. Things were packed in there haphazardly because we knew we’d be taking some stuff with us for the interim time between dropping it off in Baltimore and picking it up in Antwerp. Some things were thrown in there “just in case” and/or because we didn’t know what else to do with them. We packed along a lot of food items that we were either able to get through or give away on our journey.

Regardless of things being disorganized, we were able to avoid eating at restaurants, sleep comfortably for free, and get a feel for how things will be when we’re living vanlife full-time. We’ve been apart from the van for two weeks now and we are really missing it!