Leishmaniasis

So, I heard about Leishmaniasis from an online forum and decided to look into it. 

It’s a nasty disease primarily caught by dogs, but humans can contract it too. It occurs after the bite of a Sandfly, which is a type of mosquito maybe a third the size of a normal mosquito. The first early sign might be lesions on the dogs skin. If your dog has lesions get it to a vet for a check.

I found lots of info online but it was all conflicting so I rang my vet and we had a long discussion about it. Apparently Leishmaniasis can result in death in many dogs, but with early intervention death can be prevented. However it is incurable, so any dog that contracts it will suffer throughout it’s life and need permanent medication.

There is a collar called Scalibor which apparently is the only one that is effective in putting off the sandfly from biting. So as a deterrent it’s about 80% effective. You can also get your dog vaccinated. This means an initial injection, then 2 more at 3 week intervals. They’re best done from being a pup but can be done effectively at any time. There is an annual booster too. The vaccination is also about 80% effective against contracting the disease should the dog be bitten, so there is no guaranteed drug that can eliminate the possibility of being bitten or infected. 

The general advice is that Leishmaniasis is more prevalent along the mediterranean corridor, so Spain (where I’m headed next) is a risk. Generally speaking warmer countries and those further east have more risk, and that risk is high from May to October. 

Sandflies are active from dusk til dawn, mostly outside but not in wind or rain. So generally speaking if you keep the dog indoors from dusk til dawn between May and October, and the dog has a collar and has been vaccinated, you are doing pretty much everything you can to limit the risk.

You can read some general stuff about Leishmaniasis here.

Bye bye Frontline

The biggest tick I've ever seen.
A normal sized tick and a huge one that I got out of Jack’s ears.

Whilst in France recently I stopped in a layby to make tea and Jack went outside to play. He came back with 3 ticks, one of them the most enormous I’ve ever seen. He’s Frontlined regularly so I was unsure how this could happen so I went to consult a vet. Apparently Frontline no longer works effectively according to the French vet, and a Seresto collar is much cheaper and lasts for up to 8 months at a time for €32.

When I got back to the UK I checked all of this out and apparently there is also an Seresto tablet. However the tablet does not stop ticks biting it only puts them off once they have. The collar actually prevents them biting in the first place. The UK vet also charged £32 so I got one there and then.

Mind you if you don’t travel outside the UK Frontline may still be effective for you. Jack has never had a tick or flea since we started using it. But it is massively expensive!

Seresto collar
Seresto collar

The other thing to consider is Leishmaniasis. This is an infection after being bitten by a sand fly and is currently incurable in dogs, While manageable, it can easily lead to death in some dogs. Scalibor is currently the only collar that prevents sand fly bites and it’s relatively cheap at about £17 for a collar that lasts about 6 months. As we’re headed off to Spain and Portugal where most sand flies are prevalent I’ll be getting Jack one before we leave.

Finding your way around with SatNav and maps

There are many forums on the internet where people are keen to offer help and advice to others. Sadly many of those are judgemental and insulting if your way does not suit their’s. The issue of SatNav Vs paper maps crops up frequently. My view is pretty simple really: use whatever method works best for you but make sure you try them all.

Using maps

I’m no stranger to paper maps. As a keen hiker I’ve long used a compass and maps and a bit of knowledge to find my way around unfamiliar mountains etc. Finding your way around unfamiliar cities is no different except in a city you can’t stay lost long as there’s always signs and people to point you in the right direction. The people who find city maps of no use are generally those who simply aren’t used to them. 

The first thing to do is establish north. Once you have north both on the ground and on the map you can always orientate yourself. Cheap compasses can be got anywhere and are useful, but if you get really stuck just remember in the northern hemisphere the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. So you’re always looking at the sun facing south-ish. However if you have a watch on it will be easier. Take your watch off and point the hour hand to the sun. Now imagine a line going from the middle of the dial to halfway between the hour hand and the 12. That’s south. Also, most people travel at roughly 2.5 miles per hour when waking. In a city that may be less because you are taking in the sites, but it’s good to know because knowing where north is and knowing how fast you travel, and of course if there are road signs! then you should never get lost with a map. 

Leaving the city is much easier in a way because there are far fewer roads. Check every intersection as you travel and ensure it’s the correct one that matches the map. If you check each one then you will quickly know if you made a mistake and can turn around. If you have a good memory you can simply recall the junction changes you have to make. I have an appalling memory so I tend to jot the directions down in a simple way: A1 to J42, then A46 to 3rd roundabout and take 2nd exit to A463. Travel for 1 mile and you’re there. 
If you plan a long journey you’ll find its really not that difficult and most people become lost when they don’t stick to their plan, or when they reach complicated cities.

Using SatNavs

SatNavs are often the work of the devil mostly because they are designed by techies, and companies take little notice of users who complain of their unintuitive controls. I’ve owned several SatNav’s most of them TomTom and the most recent a Garmin. The most common complaint about them is that they offer barmy routes. Well that’s true, they all sometimes do. However only one time over the last decade have I followed a barmy route and gone significantly out of my way. General speaking the barmy routes the SatNav come up with make little real difference to your overall journey, so it’s just not worth complaining about. 

There are two main features of SatNavs: 1 is finding your way around:
If you have a large vehicle though it’s pointless expecting a standard SatNav to always route you the best way. Many truckers have SatNavs meant for cars, so obviously they will find themselves down roads which are too narrow, with height barriers and sharp turns that they can’t get past. This happens constantly it’s not the SatNav’s fault. It’s the fault of the driver for not buying a unit that will accept your height and width and direct you accordingly. Many motorhomers have units like this for that exact purpose. 

Once you have an appropriate unit it really is simple: tell if what city you wish to go to, or what postcode, or co-ordinates if you use those. I use a mix of all of them. If you simply type in ‘Bruge’ they will attempt to take you to what is considered the central part of that city. More recent models will inform you if there is a toll road on the route and ask if you wish to avoid it, or if there is a congestion zone or emission zone on your route and again, ask if you wish to reroute to avoid that. It couldn’t get any simpler and after a few second of generating a route you’re ready to go. 
I use my SatNav in portrait mode and the reason I do that is mostly that when driving you don’t need a wide view of what’s in front of you, you need a long view so you know what’s coming up. I especially like this to check what lane I need to be in. The SatNav may say take the 3rd exit but that could easily still be a right turn in relation to your direction of travel, or it might mean going almost all the way around the roundabout. 
Also if you need fuel it gives you longer to plan when you see fuel stations coming up in the distance n the screen. 

There are a few caveats to using one. Firstly if yours is a basic model, or if you have an awful lot of items in the display, it may update slowly so you think it is pointing you off a roundabout, but it simply hasn’t updated the screen yet. It’s wise to listen to spoken instructions as well as read the display. 
Also, at complicated motorway junctions it’s easy to get confused as the SatNav considers the exit from the motorway not to be the point you access the slip road, but to be the point at which you are almost on the motorway junction itself. If there are many junctions together it can be indistinct which one it is referring to. Sometimes, rarely, you have no choice than to guess and hope you get it right. TomTom is really bad for this but the Garmin is better as their mapping is clearer. 

You can also use the SatNav when not in the car. It will route you for walking and cycling as well as driving. I used to use my TomTom for walking routes but the battery life was appalling and for other reasons I stopped. I’ll discuss that later in Navigating with a Mobile Phone.

Also it’s very important that you use any SatNav as a guide only. There are many occasions when it has instructed me to u-turn when a u-turn is not allowed. Or tried to route me the wrong way down a one way street, take me down a dead end or make a right turn where there simply isn’t one. The mapping is not bang up to date no matter what they say and of course nothing can be that precise when it relies on so many factors for accurate details. You must use your own driving skills and be aware of what you’re doing despite what the SatNav is saying.
Very generally now I use maps for an overall view of where I am aiming to be, and the SatNav to navigate me through unfamiliar cities once I arrive there. The numerous twists and turns are almost impossible to plan for and my Garmin even takes into account live roadworks and live traffic reports.

The other thing SatNavs are excellent for is POIs, or Points Of Interest. These are simply shortcuts and you often get thousands of them with a new unit, 90% of which you probably won’t use. Banks and ATM machines are often listed, restaurants and pubs, hospitals, vets and fuel stations. SatNavs used to allow you to set your own category and add POI’s to it. For whatever reason they stopped doing that last year and it’s been the biggest miss. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they would do it, for me in my motorhome it was the primary reason for using one. I had categories such as where to find water taps, where to park up for the night, friends addresses etc. 

TomTom demand you update your maps frequently however at a certain age of device they will say it is too old to update now so you must buy a new device. This is when I found out when choosing a new device that they don’t support custom POI’s. Garmin do, but it’s very clunky and demands the use of a computer and some specialist software. Pretty stupid if you’re on the road lol You can save some favourites as they’re called but these are limited in number. 
A little hint for those who travel far and frequently. If you’re like me it’s no unusual to end up somewhere new and especially when rural forget or not even know where you are. There is a command on the Garmin screen which is “Where am I?” This instantly tells you your co-ordinates and the city or region you’re in. On forgetful days it’s very handy 🙂

Nevertheless grumbles aside, SatNavs are an excellent tool for finding your way around but it is unwise to rely on them 100%. For one thing they do make mistakes, and also you don’t memorise a journey well if you are simply following instructions. Consider them as a helpful aid rather than as a necessary tool. It’s very, very easy to live without one, but if you travel far and frequently they do make life that much easier.

Mobile Phones and Google Maps

Mobile phones make great route navigators too and in some ways are far superior to dedicated SatNavs but in other ways they have their limitations.

On Android phones Google maps comes as standard. it’s free, and it’s very accurate, and it’s been enhanced on phones for route finding including multi stop routes. It can also give you routes via trains, buses, cycles, walking and a vehicle. As most people take their phones everywhere they go the use of them for navigating unfamiliar -and especially large- cities is second to none. 

Mobile phones use a GPS chip for GPS signals but they also use a triangulation from mobile phone masts to find out where you are and to route you to where you’re going. I used mine to find the seat in Amsterdam that was made famous in the film The Fault in our Stars. The phone took me unerringly to the exact spot. Many websites such as garages, pubs, hotels and motorhome accessory shops have links on their page too so that at a click of a button you leave the website and go to Google maps and the directions are there for you. 

The only downside to these is that you must have a data connection for them to work. In this day and age almost everyone does have some data on their phone, and google maps uses very little. Apparently you can download the maps for a route while at home on WiFi, and store them on your phone for up to a month. I have an excellent data package so I don’t do that, but the option is there. 

There are numerous apps for phones to use too, many which are offline meaning you don’t need a live data connection to use them, you store the maps on your phone. One of the popular ones Maps.me is a massive 12 gig if you want all of Europe covered. However it doesn’t do postcode mapping and does not have many of the functions of a dedicated SatNav unit.

Using a phone and Google maps to navigate a city when driving takes a little getting used to, but once you’re used to it it’s easily as good as a dedicated SatNav. Where the SatNav wins is rerouting quickly if you go the wrong way, using live traffic info to avoid congestion and roadworks, better junction assist and a better display of map features. However you never need to plug your phone into the computer to do long map updates and the battery life on my MotoG phone is far superior to any SatNav. I can see a time when SatNavs will be defunct completely.

Don’t let people dictate what method you use. Try them all and stick with what suits you best. 

Carbonara a la Gary

Carbonara a la Gary
Carbonara a la Gary

I love a bit of Italian, and my traditional Italian friend cringes when I make this dish but it is very tasty and cheap and quick to make. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 handfuls of any pasta (penne, tagliatelli, fusili)
  • A tub of mascarpone
  • A Pepperami stick

Chop the pepperami into small pieces and cook it in the pasta with some salt and black pepper. When it’s done, drain it and add half the tub of mascarpone and stir it in well, then serve with a garnish of your choice such as chopped parsley. 

Takes 10 minutes from start to finish and tastes lovely.

Driving abroad

Driving abroad is much easier than you think if you have never done it, no-one should be scared of trying it as long as they are a competent driver generally. It’s very easy to retrain your brain to ‘look left, turn right’ at roundabouts and otherwise transpose the turns you make against opposing traffic. However you must learn basic traffic signs and protocols before you go as the police do not care if you are foreign, if you’re driving their roads you are expected to know their rules. So this post is designed to set a few out. 

Tolls:

We don’t have many toll roads in the UK but they are very common abroad in most countries. Some take the form of toll booths where you pay cash for specific journeys, others take the form of buying a sticker for the windscreen and then you are entitled to drive on certain roads. Others are much like congestion zones in London: the Umwelt zones in Germany require you to have a plakette or stick on your windscreen to verify the Euro rating of your vehicle, and therefore your entitlement to use certain roads, and France requires you to have a Crit’Air sticker on your windscreen to enter major cities at certain times. There are countries like France who have the Crit’Air scheme but it also runs alongside the toll schemes which are operated privately on many of their roads. 

You need to check firstly what your vehicle is rated at. Mines under 3.5 tons but you need to find out what yours is so that you always know you’re buying the right sticker.

Austria:

Austria requires all drivers of vehicles up to 3.5 tons to buy a vignette for their motorways and A roads. Their are also some toll roads but the vignette is not compulsory for these.  Happily Austria has in place a scheme where if you are a visitor and simply touring for a few days you can get a 10 day vignette currently priced at €8.90. This is excellent value and the stickers can be bought either at the border points, or at almost all garages within Austria. You can also order them online. 
Loads of information on Austrian vignettes can be found here: and there is also a lot of info on rest stops and digital toll paying here.

France:

So I am class 2 on French roads. Many toll booths are automatic and sensing the height may ask me to pay for an HGV which is a much higher toll. However, press the help button and explain you are a camping car and your fee will be adjusted. One proviso I might add is that if you are tempted to stay overnight on on of the aires (rest stops) on a toll road, you will find your toll increased when you get to a peage. (toll booth). French tolls aren’t excessive but are frequent so using them for a long journey can prove to be a chunk from your wallet. A simpler way to travel and much more enjoyable is to avoid all toll roads. My Garmin Nuvi satnav allows me to choose as an option whether to include toll roads or not within my journey.
This link offers a ton of information, and a handy routing tool which tells you what the cost will be for using certain roads. Calais to Nice for example is a whacking €107 euros in total. It also includes information on tunnel tolls. If you’e not entirely sure of your class, go here and this chart will help you work it out. If you like the idea of not having to stop at toll booths and have it paid automatically, try this link out

 

Jack enjoys a fountain

We stayed in St Venant for about a week. It’s a free aire just on the edge of a small town in France, right by a canal. The walks along the canal were lovely and we went for miles one day. I hadn’t taken any lunch or water or anything so Jack was OK slurping out of the canal, but I was a bit thirsty and hungry when we got back after about 5 hours. 

Never mind we loved our walk and the weather was great most of the time.  The parking area was right next to what looked like a tiny park. There were 3 chestnut trees there and hundreds of some of the biggest conkers I’ve ever seen all over the ground. I picked a dozen up for the grandson so I could teach him how to play when I get back to the UK. 

Locals playing petanque under a huge conker tree in the sunshine.
Locals playing petanque under a huge conker tree in the sunshine.

Anyway, the first morning I awoke to several voices all happy and obviously bantering but I could make out little of what was said. Then I heard the unmistakable sound of the steel balls of petanque. I looked out and sure enough, there they were, all merrily playing their game amongst the conkers.  I love the whole idea of what they do because the community comes together to play a social game, they chatter and banter together, men and women – young and old. I’d seen this at the Boulodrome in Estaires and took a photo there too as it happens. 

As it turns out these people met every morning briefly and every afternoon to play their game. There were also many who like me, simply sat and watched them play because it was relaxing and fun to watch others enjoying themselves.

Anyway so in St Venant there’s a lovely Boulangerie and Patisserie that I frequented. I bought a loaf called Allouette and she cut it into slices for me and it was delicious, like real proper bread should taste, not the doughy, sticky crap we get at home. Sure Warburtons make some nice loaves as do Hovis, but they cost a stupid price. This large loaf was handmade, exceptionally tasty, bigger than a standard Warburtons loaf and only €1.20. And don’t get me started on the cakes….

So on the way to the bakers is a council office with some fountains outside and as it was a hot day I let Jack at the water to see what he would do.  Here’s some videos of him playing… 

 He only really learned how to do this in Salzburg. Prior to that he was always a bit shy of going into moving water, although seas and rivers didn’t bother him. But he got the taste for it in Salzburg and now he can’t get enough!

This is what life is about. Nice places, nice people, nice memories.