Every evening around 20:00 our evening routine begins. By then it’s started to get dark and we will have already chosen a place to park up for the night.
If we’re staying in a campsite we’ll have put out the table and chairs and walked around the site to get a feel for the place. We close all of the blinds and draw the curtains around the driver and passengers seats and clip them together in the middle, then we turn on the lights – there are four of them – and often I’ll put on a local radio station at a background volume to distract Iva from any peripheral noises outside the van which might get her thinking about camper van murderers or bears.
Generally it’s me that cooks dinner.
This year we’ve learnt from our previous experience and so on most mornings we stop at a supermarket to buy food (and diesel) for that day. I love cooking in the van because it’s a culinary and logistical master-challenge that demands nimble fingers, nerves of steel and a heat-resistant face.
The hob has two rings, the chopping board and sink can only be used one a time, water and space are in limited supply and anything that gets dropped on the floor disappears immediately into Klara.
Shopping each day for that day this year has meant that we’ve eaten much better and thrown a lot less food away.
In 2010 we were so excited about setting out on our trip that we completely filled the van with food on the very first day and ended up constantly having to use things up (and throw quite a lot of stuff away). Today for example we bought green asparagus and we ate it tonight with fresh mushrooms and chives, and potatoes and crème fraiche from yesterday.
Another advantage is that we can keep our eyes open for local produce available only in that part of the country. I had quite a bit of fun experimenting with Galettes in Brittany, and we’ve also been working our way through the various cheeses which differ from town to town.
But mainly we just love going to supermarkets and do that almost every day.
After dinner, we wash the dishes, put everything away and one of us will feed Klara and then take her out for her evening constitutional (i.e. walking in circles on the nearest patch of grass until she pees).
You have to be pretty organised living in such a small place because every surface serves multiple purposes. We have about 6m³ to play with and depending on the time of day it’s our bedroom, kitchen, living room and dining room. Oh, and of course our car. You don’t want dirty pots in your bedroom, or dirty undies in your kitchen and you definitely don’t want your living room to stink of diesel and wet dog.
Most evenings we put the heating on full blast for 10 minutes which raises the temperature very quickly and is enough for the rest of the evening. Since finding out that we can’t replace or refill our gas bottles here in France we’ve been rationing our gas a little bit, but the van is well insulated and it hasn’t been a problem fortunately. Once that’s taken care of we watch a film or an episode of whichever TV series we’re currently ploughing our way through (currently Downton Abbey, mixed feelings on that one), I drink some beer and Iva eats some chocolate biscuits. Eventually I usually also eat some chocolate biscuits and in mean time it’s gone 23:00 and we’re ready for some magical sleepy time.
The last bit of the routine is also the best bit.
The roof of the van folds down and extends to create a sleeping space above the living area. It’s claustrophobic and cosy in equal measure, and learning to get up there elegantly (and safely) took quite a bit of practice: left foot on the bench, right foot on the work surface, pull, swivel … and with a bit of luck you’re cocooned in for the night.
Then it’s lights off and sleep, which pretty much always comes easily after a day of travelling.