One year on…

It’s hard to believe it was a year ago today that we set off on our Big Trip. A year ago, we were at the first campsite near Mont St Michel, and planning the next day’s drive southwards through France. The whole adventure was ahead of us!

I’ve been reading back through the early entries in this blog. All that squealy excitement when we were preparing for the trip, and the vaguely overwhelmed first few diary entries when we didn’t really know what we were doing (and I hadn’t yet discovered how to navigate via Google maps on my phone…)

We have some local friends who are about to set off on a long trip in a motorhome – they came round to look at Gertie and hear our stories about our trip. They’ve bought a similar van and are hoping to rent out their flat and set off on an open-ended trip. And yes, we are dead jealous of them! I’d love to do it again.

This year we are planning two fortnight trips away – one in June/July to the Loire valley in France, and one in late August to Ireland. Very much looking forward to them. Sadly, me being tied to workplace holiday allowances means that’s about all we’ll manage, apart from a few weekends away when the weather gets warmer – maybe with some other friends who recently bought a VW California…

Meanwhile Gertie’s sitting out on our driveway, still in ‘winter ‘ mode (boiler drained, water tanks empty etc) and mostly unpacked. We did visit the motorhome show in the NEC a few weeks ago, and bought new camping chairs and new melamine plates, ready for the next trip.

Here’s Gertie, somewhere in the middle of France. This photo was taken at some point in the first few days when we were heading down through France, finding our feet.

gertie somewhere





Roads we drove and loved

We’ve been home three weeks and are no nearer sorting out our photos… However I have gone through and picked out a number which illustrate the kinds of roads we drove on – some great, some scenic, some not entirely suitable for Gertie… Many of these photos were taken through the windscreen as we drove along, so they should give you a good impression of what life on the road was like. Sigh. I miss it.

Driving along the Promenade des Anglais, Nice
Monaco. Mostly you drive through a tunnel but we did pop out of it for a little while.
Approaching Positano on the Amalfi Coast. We weren’t allowed to go much further in a campervan.
On Sicily, the motorways go through a lot of badly lit tunnels
The Apennine  mountains in Abruzzo 
Somewhere in Croatia
A tight fit. This bridge was in a campsite that was on both sides of a river, in northern Italy
Passo di Gavia. This was one of the better sections. In other sections there was a sheer drop on one side and no room to pass. other vehicles. I still have nightmares about this one!
Much better on the way down the other side.
Gorgeous mountain passes
We drove round an awful lot of these. 
We weren’t the biggest vehicle using these roads!
In the Gorge du Tarn in France. We spent the night here. Above that wall on the right is the other lane of the road, see next photo…
Gorge du Tarn. At 3m high we have to watch Gertie doesn’t bump her head…
An easier road to drive. Approaching the Viaduc du Millau
Not a tunnel, this is actually a natural cave that the road goes through. 
PANIC! WHAT ON EARTH IS THAT WATER DOING ON THE WINDSCREEN? We forgot what rain was after several months of glorious sunshine.
My regular view while we were driving.
Pyrenees. See that little arch? We’ve got to fit through that…
Ah, it’s bigger when you get nearer. 
Driving in Portugal was sometimes like this. And yes, we were on the main road through this small town. There was no bypass.
In the Portuguese Penedes-Geres national park, approaching the border with Spain. The road became progressively narrower as if they didn’t want you to go that way.
Across the border into Spain, and the road was much better
I think this photo was trying to capture those horreos (grain stores on stilts typical of north-west Spain) but mostly managed to capture the cracked windscreen we drove around with for the last 6 weeks of the trip.
In the Picos de Europa. Lots of stunning drives there!
Gertie has travelled some amazing roads and spent the night in some stunning locations


An overview  of the stats …

We spent six months travelling through seven countries;
France (38 nights), Italy (78), Croatia (15), Bosnia Herzegovina (1), Switzerland (4), Spain (28), Portugal (16). Plus 4 nights in UK and 1 on ferry.

Took five ferries; Poole – Cherbourg, Villa San Giovanni – Messina, Messina – Villa San Giovanni, Dubrovnik – Bari, Bilbao – Portsmouth.
Two flights; return Bergamo – Manchester.

Drove 20,500 km.

Of the 185 nights, we spent 71 at campsites, 30 wild camping, 51 in car parks, 28 at Aires, 4 in Fionn’s flat and 1 on a ferry.

We spent €3,000 on diesel, €1,500 on nightstops (average €8.54/night), €1,000 on ferries, €385 on tolls, €1,100 on main repairs, €200 on replacement bike and €77 on LPG.

We had ~ 220 coffee stops, which considering we generally had something ‘nice’ with the coffee probably amounted to ~€1,000.
Dinner out ~30-40 times, lunch ~60-70, which means we prepared ~ 400 meals in the van … in some stunning locations!

My personal highlights were …
Travelling with Kath, a very agreeable travelling companion!
City – Bolzano
Region – South Tyrol
Country – France (obviously!) but really liked Italy (and Portugal, and Spain)
Sea shore – Croatia.
Campsite – Camping Stobrec outside Split.

The trip inspired future trips …
France (endless possibilities)
South Tyrol and the Dolomites.
West coast of Portugal
North west coast of Spain.

These ‘stats’ or any possible words could not describe the immense enjoyment we had.
I will wrap up with one thought.

Voyager c’est vivre – get a Motorhome and go travel 🙂


Northern Spain

I have put up the route page detailing our journey through Northern Spain. It is the last route page as we left Bilbao on a ferry for Portsmouth.

We had eighteen days and covered 1,633 miles in Northern Spain.
Our nightstops were four nights in two campsites, four nights wild camping, six nights free in car parks and three nights in aires, one of which was free.
We stuck mostly to the coast, going in land mainly to visit the mountainous Picos de Europa. Connor joined us for a week, flying in and out of Santander with Ryan Air (which turned out to be an achievement in itself!).
We retraced our steps, somewhat, between Praia das Catedrais and Santander , getting to know the A8 quiet well. Fortunately it’s mostly a toll free motorway.

Highlights include Santiago de Compostela, the Galicia region (north west) in general, Gijón, San Sebastian, the Picos and many places along the coast too numerous to mention.
Another region we’re planning a return visit too.

You will need to visit the blog to read the detail and see the pictures! For non-bloggers, click here and then ‘Northern Spain’.


Back to work

We got back safely on Thursday night, after a 28 hour ferry crossing. Drove home from Portsmouth and were in the house around 10.15pm. The car wouldn’t start, having sat on the driveway for 6 months, so Gertie had to be parked in the street. And the boiler wouldn’t turn on, so despite the chill (compared with Spain!) we could not turn on the heating, although we could use the immersion for hot water.

Friday was my birthday. After breakfast out we called our local garage to come and sort out the car (they replaced its battery and re-enabled the immobiliser) and fiddled with the boiler until it came on. Finally Ignatius was able to go shopping for ingredients for the roast chicken dinner I had requested as a birthday meal. After 6 months of food cooked on 3 gas burners I was longing for something oven cooked! I was also longing for a long hot soak in the bath. Bliss!

Now, three days on, we’ve unpacked the van, cleaned it inside, done many loads of washing and got up to date with post and paperwork.

And tomorrow I am back at the day job. Can’t say I am looking forward to that, but I can say I’ve absolutely made the most of my 6 months long leave. What an experience it’s been!