Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Magic Mushrooms and Efteling...

After our last success at Parc Asterix, we thought it a good idea to check out whether there were any Dutch Theme Parks.

Turns out the oldest in the Netherlands is a short drive away so we set off and are pulling in to a campsite a few ours later. The rates were very reasonable and the park just a kilometre down the road where it costs 10 euros to park.

We settled in to the campsite which had electricity and wifi included in the 15 euro a night fee.

Now here is where you(we) have to leave our opinions on drugs behind. The fact is that I enjoy altering my mind. I think is a very interesting and enjoyable experience. And we were in no better place to try psilocybin containing mushrooms, or rather truffles as the law now allows. Its the same as a mushroom it just hasn't been given conditions to fruit in to one and so grows underground.

They had a very unique taste with the texture of a nut. The advice said to chew well so the absorption occurs more through the mouth than the stomach. They seemed to let out a chemical taste that didnt disappear when I drank water.

After about an hour I started to get some weird wavy like movements on the peripheral of my vision. I couldn't help but laugh at things. I just wanted to smile. The whole trip lasted about 4 hours after that first hour and everything was interesting. The wood grain on the cupboards would move like a fluid and the different grass colours would morph and merge in to each other. Patterns were more prominant and I couldn't help but think about the construction of things to their smallest molecule.

My perspective on the world was a lot different. I thought about how many people it took to deliver the smallest thing to my world. Like the plastic milk bottle we bought for tea and coffee. Every single person in its supply chain was there just to give me the experience of pouring milk out of it. In short it was amazing.
I am intrigued by psilocybin and psyclobin as they are normally occuring substances within our brains. Not an alien chemical, just one you play with the quantities of in your brain. Its not toxic and I feel could be beneficial for learning and definately self discovery of some sort.

The visions and thoughts faded away slowly and I felt relaxed, enlightened and somehow closer to the world. Be careful if you choose to experiment, but I'd also say don't be scared. As with most drugs the effects fade away and if you are conscious that the different things that are happening are a manifestation of the drug you'll be fine.

Enough of all the hippie talk. After a good nights sleep we walked to Efteling, a fairytale theme park set in some ancient woodland. It is said that Walt Disney visited Efteling many times in the years before opening Disney World for inspiration. The park was very beautiful with old trees and lakes with pathways meandering through and around them.

The main rides were well thought out as well. My favorite being the wooden 2 tracked 'race coaster' called Joris and the Dragon. The wooden construction gives the ride a very scary and organic feel and they always seem to be faster than their steel counter parts.

I managed to get on the front of the indoor roller coaster called Vogel Rok and enjoyed wizzing round in the pitch black. Much better than X No Way Out at Thorpe Park.

We finished the day with a show about the rising of a huge 5 headed raven beast and 4 knighted friends on horse back as they tried to slay it. The story wasn't anything to write home about but the anamatronix on the massive beats was impressive.  Id like to work on equipment like that at some point.

The 3rd best water jet show is also at Efteling. 3rd behind the Belaggio display in Vegas and one in Dubai. We waited next to the big lake just before the start time and was disappointed to hear that it had gone tech.
All in all it was a good day. If I had to pit it against Parc Asterix I'd say that Asterix was better. But only by a whisker.

Rotterdam and Nan's house..

After a drive down from Amsterdam where we took a bit of a divertion across the country to East of Utrecht. Our friend Alec was traveling back to his army camp in Germany and was able to meet up for some dinner and wine.

Windmill in Rotterdam
The next day we parked up in a lovely area of Rotterdam called Scheidam. The aire was under one of 5 beautiful windmills that lit up at night.

We had a stroll around the local area which seemed to have a long past of being a distillery with warehouses and large buildings dotted along the canals. We fed the ducks in the canal metres from the van.

My Dad and his brother lived in the Netherlands with their parents when they were little and I thought it'd be nice to see the area where they lived and get a picture of the old house for my Nan. So we drove West towards the coast and the small town of Oostvorne. Its a typical small Dutch town with decent cycle paths on every road and small quaint closes and cul de sacs. We found the house which had a nice little lake at the back where my Dad said he played as a kid.

Further around the coast we pulled in to a lovely campsite to celebrate my 25th Birthday, cycling in to town and around the battlement at Hellevoetsluis. That evening we saw a few Persied meteors as we star gazed.
Nan's house
I caught my first fish with my telescopic rod in a canal and got some lovely photos of the wildlife using just my phone camera.

We headed back in to Rotterdam for a few nights relaxing before heading to the biggest Dutch theme park, Eftling...

On the coast at Hellevoetsluis

Attacking birds

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Mia's arrival in the 'Dam

I was excited when Mia first said she had quit her job. I was even more excited when she asked if it would be possible to join Kerry and I in our van for a bit.

Kerry and Mia on the river
So we setup a rendezvous. Schipol Airport at 10am, just as Mia got off her plane. What a disaster that turned in to with Mia unable to text. Kerry and I were getting messages from friends back home saying Mia couldn't find us! Eventually we spotted our old flat-mate waving as she walked towards us.

First stop, of course, Amsterdam and all its glorious sights! Ive been to Amsterdam a few times before, twice with Kerry, but Mia had surprisingly not been. Next mission was to find a campsite. We had stayed at a campsite just out of town the previous night but it was like a tourist farm with no personality and as it turns out we would have had to get the metro system in to town anyway.

We looked for somewhere nearer the centre and found a small campsite just to the North of the city on the otherside of the river Ij. Trying to navigate to the campsite however, we stumbled upon a small industrial area where a few other vans had parked up and within 20 minutes we were galiantly walking down the road to the free ferry to the Centrum.

We sampled some of the wares in the coffee shops and had a walk around the canals, heading back quite early as Mia had travelled early morning.

The nexy day we booked ourselves on a very pleasant canal tour. An hour and a half expedition around the canals on a canal boat. There was a commentary on the PA system that highlighted places of note and some of the history of the city.

3D action in Prix D'ami
In the evening we found a great coffeeshop called Prix D'ami, just down from the central station on the Damrak. For 8 Euros we got a drink, a big burger and 3D glasses so we could lounge on bed like sofas and watch iRobot on one of the 3D screens. We spent hours there as waitresses came round and tended to everyones needs. The perfect coffeeshop!

That night Mia got her first taste of the red light district. We wandered aimlessly looking at scantily clad prostitutes try and lure in their weekly shopping money. Its always weird. But I did get to see some scantily clad prostitutes in a way thats largely accepted by other halfs.... so thats a bonus.

A morning in the Amsterdam dungeons followed the next day. I've never been to the London dungeons but have been to the Amsterdam ones before and its great. The live actors and anamatronix tell such good stories and some of the jumpy surprises can really scare you. Then the strange mini roller coaster at the end just freaks you out as the first thing it does is go up a floor like an elevator!

The weather got really nice that afternoon and we found a lovely park just south of the main city. The water in all of the little lakes and ponds seemed really high and it was nice to listen to some guys playing bongos near us.

Of course we had our fair share of feebo!


OHM2013 in the Nederlands...

After a pretty groggy drive from Global Gathering music festival in Stratford-upon-avon we arrived in the ferry port of Harwich late Sunday and immediately battened down the hatches ready for sleep and the sailing at 8am. 

The journey was fairly non-descript. We chose the Harwich - Hoek of Holland crossing rather than Dover or Felixstow purley because it was shorter in distance. 6 hours later and we were driving through beautiful Dutch countryside next to meandering canals. Instantly both Kerry and I proclaimed "I could live here", as if thats some sort of acceptance of a place.

Main Big Top lecture hall
The roads were great. Not a hill or even slight incline in sight and what seemed like endless, untouched motorway. It appears to be a fusion between German efficiency and French flair ... but next to a canal. We made quick time up the A4 for 50 miles and I swear there wasn't the slightest crack, bump or repair in the road.

It is nice to see the Netherlands for what it is. Ive only ever seen 'Hollande' through the stoned and hungry eyes of a pot tourist relishing in the fact they aren't criminalised for partaking. But to see the real Netherlands, it's landscape, flora, Industry, everything. Its all so much prettier.

OHM2013 was our destination. A Dutch 'hacker camp' held roughly every 4 years. The acronym stands for Observe, Hack, Make and does well to describe what the festival is about. Technology, software, gadgets, demonstrations, political figures and A LOT of geeks. It was nuts. Its the only place I've seen a guy scripting in Python on his mac sitting next to another guy playing connect 4 by himself. 

10's of Thousands of LEDS
The festival was a big experiment in itself. Every one of the attendees was classed as a volunteer. Everyone at the festival ran the festival. A system was setup online for people to volunteer for different jobs from cleaning the toilets and litter picking to hosting a talk or tweaking the code for the 30,000 individually addressable LEDs around the campsite. The only organisational structure was a relatively small group of core volunteers.

Now this all sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Well, when we pulled in to the festival site I was amazed. There were big top tents just like at a big festival, food stands, LED street lighting, scaffold towers with lazers on, a full blacksmithery.

Static experiment
There were 5 or 6 huge generators to power the whole thing. Every lecture tent had mood lighting, projectors and seating. Campers could run power to their tents/vehicles and there was a 10 G bit internet connection to keep everyone happy, wired and wireless.

Some of the talks were totally lost on me. 'hands on SIM card exploitation' for instance sounded fun but you needed to know how to code in java, C and have knowledge in round rainbow encryption cracking. All things I have no idea about!

But there were other talks on broadly different subjects. There was a wide representation of global whistleblowers and ex-three letter organisation employees speaking on drugs, terrorism, foreign policy and the implications of standing up and speaking against keeping quiet. Many of these people had been on the run from their old agencies and it was interesting to hear their views on the Bradley Manning case that was playing out whilst we were at the festival. 

Light show at night
There was even a very special live video link from Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. He spoke for 45 minutes on the state of whilstleblowing, what help was needed, how we can support the Edward Snowdons of this world. 

I was particularly interested in the subjects more pertinant to me like the war on drugs and the damage it has caused as well as the hardware hacking talks using open source hardware such as the arduino microcontroller and the imbeddable linux computer the Raspberry Pi.

We latched on to a particular stand that gave away Melon and Meat Loaf (a sausage type meat with curry sauce) as well as a free .ml domain name. All weekend giving away free food... in the Netherlands!

Careful of the Crocs!
It was a real experience. The people definately made it though. Everyone rallied together to turn a bland field in a recreational ground in to, what felt like, the heart of the maker movement at that moment. 

The Festival was near to the town of Alkmaar and Kerry and I took a cycle in to the town for some groceries. The shear beauty of the place was hard to fathom. Every canal corner had an old windmill on it and I think we managed to cycle 5 miles round trip riding on cycle paths and not the road. 

I very much like the Northern end of the Netherlands. Even if it is a bit windy...


Fablabtruck and makerlab

Laser party

Asterix and Obelix N64 game

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Up North...

Not wanting to drive around the M25 early Saturday morning we left Home at Lunch time Friday. The journey seemed to take forever as well. The M1/A1 is a long road!

But we made it safely and arrived at Kerry's cousin Katie's house with just enough time to run out for fish and chips. I did notice something new on the menu. Scratching and chips. I think its all the bits of batter left over from frying a fish, with chips. 

We'd travelled to Bishop Auckland, County Durham because of a big party that was being laid on for Kerry's Dad, Mike, and his two twin sisters. 50 years old (even though Mike protests his youthful good looks and still with a full head of hair!)

Brass-band day in Durham
The day of the party and everyone from 'down South' arrived early afternoon for a quick beer and a tidy up before heading to the social centre where the doo was being held. There were a lot of people there. Mike is one of 11 children and it was really nice to see such a big family all together, of all generations.

I'd been promised a good pissup. And a good pissup I got! Threw some groovy shapes to some pop music that I actually quite appreciate at the moment. All in all it was a brilliant night and I finished off my last pint in the back seat of the taxi back to Katie's and the van.

Tom, Kerry's sisters partner, and I woke up with the imaginary smell of fryup wafting through the air. It was now our mission! We contemplated going to a greasy spoon but I was adamant that a home cook-up is the only way forward. 20 minutes in Asda and we were chefing it up for everyone. Sausages, bacon, black pudding, tomatos, beans, mushrooms. KABAM!

Then I remembered
Kerry enjoys eating too!

"Come round empty tomorrow Adam, there's tons of food in the fridge for the Barbie!"

From Katies mum, Mikes sister Barbara.


We waddled in to Barbara's garden to find a load of the people from the party the night before, a bin full of beer and ice and Ian, Katie's Dad, whipping up a feast on the Barbecue. 

The afternoon was really brilliant. The food just kept coming and everyone was so nice to talk to. It felt as if I knew everybody from a long time ago, when really I'd only just met them that weekend. Kerry and I had brought the new van over to the BBQ and as the last of the family said their goodbyes and departed we only had to walk a few steps before we were home. 

I used the next day to install the 120W solar panel and controller that got delivered the week before. Im glad I did it at Barbara and Ians as I had to use Ian's jigsaw to alter the panel. Early indications are good. Ive never had a controller display the Current being put out by the panel before so it is very interesting to see how different weather conditions affect electrical output. 

Keswick and Derwent Water
The festivities, however, had still not stopped! With another Birthday meal for a different sibling a few days later. I have never, ever... ever. Eaten so much in my whole life. Constant eating for 4 days. It was awesome! But I'm feeling it now. 

We spent the day over at Derwent Water in Keswick where I was able to get a landing net to accompany my fishing rod.

After a quick one night pit stop in Snowdonia, Wales to collect our refillable petroleum gas canister from the supplier we headed to our 5th dose of Global Gathering music festival in as many years.

Most of our good friends were there this year. Unfortunately some couldn't make it but it was an awesome festival none the less. Id er on it being the best we've been to. It was handy having the van in the car park. On the last night we had some really torrential rain from about 9pm till 2am. It stopped raining just as we got back to the tents.

Mine and kerry's tent had managed to fill up with water, so we grabbed the few things we take in to festivals now and retreated to the van. We needed the sleep as our ferry sailing to the Netherlands was at 8am Monday morning.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Being Home and New Van!...

I always look forward to being home...

Yes its exciting, stimulating, adventurous and never boring cruising around in a van or catching fresh powder every day. But theres nothing like coming home to family, friends and your favourite curry house.

We took the shorter and more direct Dieppe to Newhaven ferry back Saturday morning and was in Horsham by 10:30. Kerry's parents were there when we got back and we all had a hug.

Breakfast in the sun
We normally spend every evening seeing a different person, group of friends or family, and this time round was no different. We double booked on more than one occasion but over the few weeks we have been back we have seen pretty much everyone
We have also moved on the van. Whilst we were traveling round we identified some very certain requirements for any future van. And with winter looming (yet still months away) we decided to get a new one.

Its based on the same Ford Transit base but from a model before the blue smartie van. Its got all the systems and amenities we think we need. Running water for start is very nice, double glazing to keep in the heat from the gas fired blown air heating and a gas boiler for hot water and a shower.
New van with a bit more insulation

Electrically it has a 240 and 12 volt system running from a 100aH battery. The split charge relay is already wired in to the ignition and the radio actually has an antenna! (Unlike ole bluey). The fridge in the van can run on 12, 240 volt and gas. I intend on buying a butane gas bottle that can be filled up with LPG at some fuel stations. This combats the difficulty in finding replacement compatible bottles ok the continent.

We have been living in it for the past 2 weeks outside Kerry's parents house and it's very comfortable. 

We decided we definitely needed a fixed bed and preferably out of the way so we don't have to make up a bed each time we stop. This van has quite a claustrophobic double bed over the cab. There is about 2 foot of space from mattress to ceiling, and I must admit I've woke up in the night freaking out and ended up on the sofa below. Hopefully with time I will get used to it.

Food challenge that I failed at!
The engine sounds good and its got quite a bit of service history with half the amount of miles of the blue van. I shall have to give it a service mechanically soon though for peace of mind.

We also discussed and decided to invest in a proper bicycle rack for any new van. £150 from Halfords and its doing the job at the moment. It will be nice to be able to leave the van and cycle off on adventures as it's normally pretty difficult to get a parking space in towns and public transport can be expensive/confusing abroad.

The blue van has gone up on eBay and I'm sure it should sell what with the work I did to it and the glorious British summer we are enjoying.

We are headed 'Up North' to County Durham in a few days for Kerry's Dad's 50th Birthday. A new 120W solar panel has just been delivered for the new truck so we should never have to plug in to 'shore power'. Hopefully I will get the time to fit and install the panel before our 3rd Festival of the year... Global Gathering

Van with bicycle rack!

First camp out with the van and good friends

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Parc Asterix...

Kerry and I love Theme Parks...

If there's ever a chance to go to our local theme park, Thorpe Park in Surrey,  we are there. We even seriously considered buying a season pass at one point.

I'd done a little research on google and found some interesting places dotted around France. Futuristic science type setups, numerous water parks and of course Disneyland Paris.

It was only last week when Dad mentioned he had gone straight through Paris, causing havoc on the 'Periferique' that I remembered Paris' other themed world, Parc Asterix.

Entrance road at Parc Asterix
After a few very long days driving up the 'Autoroute de Soleil' from South to North we finally pulled in to the parc. Not before having a tour of Charles de Gaule airport and its spectacularly confusing one way systems.
Pulling in to the car park of the onsite hotel, we hunkered down to an evening reading books and listening to the last riders on the attractions. Screaming and hollering as they embraced the G's! Tomorrow that would be us!!

Getting in was a touch more expensive than I'd thought. There was an offer on the French website that said under 25's got in half price. That's only if you order it online though and we had to stump up the full 40 Euro's each. :(

Asterix atop the mountain at the middle of the park
It was well worth it once inside. The park is based on Asterix and Obelix, two cartoon characters that I remember watching as a kid. As per the cartoon where the characters travel around the world and through time to ancient civilizations, the park was split up in to Egyptian, Roman and Greek as well as Asterix's native caveman like village and a sort of steampunk section with mad inventions.

We ran around the park all day like little kids again. Every big ride was conquered at least once and there were some interesting rides from individual manufacturers and the main players including a new coaster by Bollinger and Mabillard called Ozlris.

The map had a timetable on the back for a range of performances, both spontaneous street performances and more tradition stage affairs. We took time out of running round like headless chickens and waiting in line for the Roman rendition of the call to arms. Once inside the Colosseum shaped and themed auditorium the show quickly started. Whilst the speaking parts were all in French it wasn't hard to get the jist of of the action. It was a mix of slapstick comedy mixed with some very good gymnastics and then later flying around on wires as if free falling from an airplane.

Massive looper called Gouduriiix
Kerry was desperate to see the on-site dolphin show. This can get us in to a touchy subject. We have both watched the 2010 Best Documentary Award winning documentary 'The Cove' on more than one occasion. Each time we are shocked and disturbed by the portrayal of mass Dolphin slaughter and capture around a particular cove in Taiji, Japan. Anyone who hasn't seen it, should. It really is a good film and sheds light on some wrong doings by both local fishermen as well as massive corruption and cohesion between states and countries at Government level.

Consequently I am reluctant to support an industry on which my opinion can be swayed in just an hour and a half film. I have seen these shows. I have watched the original 'Shamu' the killer whale in America, jump and splash the audience. I was very young then, and yes it was spectacular. But I am older now and have read about her being withdrawn from performances after grabbing and refusing to let go of a female performers leg. I don't believe these animals can be happy in these environments, even after every consideration by the keepers is made. Let alone the terrible capture process.

But Kerry hasn't before seen these shows and was, rightly, intrigued by its content. We watched the show and I'm not sure Kerry was too amazed. I'm sure she will write about it over at her blog.

Obelix actor larking around
The best show by far was inside another big concert type hall that faced a huuuge Hollywood style harbour scene. There was ambient noise playing of seagulls and other sounds associated with docks. One guy strolled around with a painters ladder and bucket whistling. This was all as the audience were filling in to their seats, but once the last had sat down the scene started to unravel in to an elaborate story of 3 robbers plight to steal the Mona Lisa from the local constabulary in 1920's France. The story had no speaking part and the action was amazing, incorporating motorcycles, classic cars, explosions, high wire acrobatics and slapstick humor that pleases everyone of the audience.

We were utterly knackered at the end of the day. Parc Asterix is a must see if your anywhere near the North-East of Paris. It's well worth the money. I think what makes Parc Asterix what it is is the themeing. It is everywhere, and so immersive. Everything is thought about, music, actors, buildings ... everything.

Go ... It's good 

Funky themeing

A bit different to the French castles we are used to....!

Big foot wasn't happy when she was woken up

Trying to explain to Asterix I can't speak French

The blokes were straining

Harbour show

Villains being villainous 
Skydiving Romans!