First Point- Wild Atlantic Way

Co Donegal, Ireland- Malin Point, the most northerly point of the Ireland, marks the beginning of the Wild Atlantic Way.  In the northwest region of the country and rural Ireland in general it is extremely dark, unpolluted and perfect for star gazing on a clear night.  Officially launched in 2014, the Wild Atlantic Way is a 1700 mile (2750 km) stretch of interconnected roadways that is as distinct as it is transcendental.

IMG_0015If you find yourself traveling down the winding lanes of the Wild Atlantic Way do yourself a favor and turn off the GPS.  The route is well marked, besides, getting lost is a hallmark of any great adventure.

 

 

I walked along the marble pathways to marvel at the crashing waves along the jagged cliffs.  In the distance, the sandy beach of Five Finger Strand surrounded me and the green countryside was sprinkled with sheep.  Only a few people at this point, a less crowded vista know as Bamba’s Crown.

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Aurora sightings are most prevalent during the months of September/October and March/April.  You can follow @Aurora_ireland on twitter for up to date Aurora alerts, sightings and browse some sweet pics taken along the Wild Atlantic Way.

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I will continue to make my way along the Wild Atlantic Way.  Happy travels!

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Gaasperplas Park and Wild Camping

Amsterdan, Netherlands- Once we got our van legs (and officially became house-less) we started our journey into the unknown.  We had to part with some of our fav items.  To think everything I owned was going to fit in the van was quite freeing.  My materialistic nature was hit hard. But once I started living for the day instead of acquiring merch for my apartment, I was launched into a more self reliant, carefree state.

 

The first few nights we didn’t go far, but we did go wild!  Wild camping is simple…kinda. Find a place, park your van or pop your tent and sleep there.   Amsterdam is full of parks and green space that isn’t necessarily meant for wild camping but also not especially banning it…yet  Part of this experience was learning a bit of civil disobedience.  That night, hanging out in the same clothes I had worn the day before, I ate my veggies and for the first time in my life I didn’t have a plan.GaasperplasAfter a lifetime of being told what to do, where to go, how to be etc. by friends, family, the government and society as a whole, I began to manage myself. Sometimes we follow the rules so blindly, without questioning why or how they came to be or who is proclaiming them.   Although uncomfortable, putting myself in a position of unknown outcomes helped build my confidence and acquire new strategies for accepting the world as it is, while simultaneously striving for positive change and real freedom.

 

I discovered some awesome aspects of my life that I was too busy to notice before.  Being a good caretaker for Rolfie and providing him with more exercise and a better quality of life was something that gave me so much joy!  I rediscovered oil painting, crochet and writing.  I began to renegotiate the idea of waiting for “The Golden Years” to pursue interests.  Put off living a full life now so you live your dream when your arthritic episodes are almost as frequent as your hemorrhoid flares!

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Prior to this, my pursuit of happiness had devolved into the pursuit of cash, buying “experiences” or things and showing them off.  Sounds dumb, but even after 30 years, I had yet to realize this was happening to me apart from relating to song lyrics and being drawn to some shitty wall art I thought about buying from TJ Maxx.  IMG_6011

Shortly after noticing the odometer was in kilometers per hour and not miles, I  began to let go of the idea that having money equates to an ability to navigate life.  It is hard to describe the excitement and anxiety, isolation and connectedness I felt with each night’s new destination.  I was finally humbled by life, on the beach, with a beer and my best friend.

Life in the Van- Amsterdam

Amsterdam, Netherlands- I have been hesitant to write about living in the van.  I envy the awesome Instagram travel posts #vanlife and the like.  My expectations were that picturesque pimped out Westfalia with all the mod cons and the interior designs of an Anthropologie store.  Being a novice and in a foreign country I wanted to take the approach like we do in nursing for medicating old people with opioids, “start low and go slow.”

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What van life dreams are made of.

While still living in a flat in Ganzenhof,  I scoured Markplaats (Dutch Craigslist) for a suitable vehicle that I could convert into a proper sleeping mobile. I found a super nice Volkswagen for €3500 in the Jordaan.  The biggest turn off here was that the dude had named it something horrible.  I can’t remember but it was Bess or Sissy…is was Sus, yep Sus. He had taken it for a quick spin to Spain and it had higher mileage than what I wanted.  It was also my first “newsflash!” that I would have to learn how to drive a manual transmission, I needed more time to think.  I also didn’t want to be driving a bright green van around the city, sleeping and working until I got my bearings and deciding where to go next.  I needed something stealthy and not a RV.

Although the culture of campervans and aires is quite common in Europe, it is harder in The Netherlands, especially in/around Amsterdam.  This is common sense really.  I don’t think the Geemente wants a bunch of people like myself living in vans, making shanty towns and going for wild plassens, despite the general tolerance for prostitution, soft drugs etc.  I will say my experience(s) with the Politie and Eurocops in general has been quite friendly.  But, go to France and you can sleep in hundreds of aires for free, Spain, just park wherever you want and carry on.

I didn’t know a lot about cars except that German ones have intricate engines and are expensive to repair.  Solution, go with a Ford.  This sounds very American, but hey! I needed cup holders damn it.    I found the Transit for €1600 and it came with three free driving lessons! No, not exactly but once I admitted to not knowing how drive a manual, Jan (the owner) thought it necessary to make sure I wouldn’t kill people, especially cyclists.

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Who I am

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Who I wanna be

After the first driving lesson in Zaandam, Jan dropped me off at the train station.  Before that he asked me to make the money transfer.  I whipped out my iPhone and transferred the money straight away as HE drove away…in my van.  My heart sank.  I called him hysterical and crying.  Useless shitty wimpy girl I was.  He was totally helping me out with the driving lessons and registering the car.  He said, “Uh well you know where I live.”  Which I did, but I had NEVER bought a car myself, like without a parent or significant other to say “Yes, good job Haley!” typical, I know.  I will credit my mother with giving me the confidence to drive a large van.  In high school I had to drive her van.  We called it the party-bus, it was dank.  I picked up the van after two more lessons, barely knowing how to reverse.  I’ll never forget the back and butt sweat on the way home, stalling out on an uphill, stopped on a bridge letting a barge through or something.  Terror on wheels-it was.   I made it back to Ganzenhof and promptly took a three hour nap.

We (my companions to be described at a later date) started making some renos on the van.  In The Netherlands you need a few specs to register it as a campervan, one being a certain height requirement that I didn’t have.  Instead I insured it as a business van, Haley Wool ftw! which earned me the name “Haley Lawless,” along with making U-turns every chance I got. Alas, transforming the van- we needed a place to cook, storage and a bed.  Now, some campers get a portable toilet.  I have made a career out of cleaning up other people’s feces (sometimes really joyous patients throw it around the place) so I chose to forgo a toilet sloshing around every round-about.  The goal was to make the van sleepable with a bed, insulation, buy a stove and give up all belongings unless they fit snugly in the van.  Plans to install an aux battery were and still are alive, but winter came quickly so we had to move fast.

I bought the van in July and by August we were camping every night.  It was lovely but as the weather changed and I realized I was in Northern Europe, I began to unravel by Halloween.  Planning is key here and a big misstep on my part was that I started way late in the season.  However, if you find an opportunity to live in a van and a willing partner to travel alongside you, I suggest you go for it no matter what the length of time.  As the spring is warming me up now, I am certainly thinking about getting back out of the road.

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The Vanje and the best lil’ camper ever, Rolfie!!