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






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 🙂


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!


Our journey round Europe has been an interesting coffee experience.
Both of us like black coffee, no sugar. But ‘black coffee’ comes in many strains, from an intense Italian espresso to the soup bowls of ‘americano’ you get in Britain.
Our coffee of choice is a cup with ‘diluted’ espresso, preferably letting the water run through the grinds for a bit longer than an espresso or at worst adding a little hot water to the espresso.

Caffè Americano.
In Italy, outside of touristy areas you can get away with asking for Caffè Americano and get a decent coffee. In tourist areas they can assume you want a coffee like the Americans want and serve it large with a lot of water .. or dishwater as the Italians refer to it! Says it all really. In these situations you have to enter into discussions along the lines of  a plumber telling you it’s a tricky job, make a face, suck air through your teeth, say stuff like Americano but with poco acqua calda (bad Italian for little hot water) and hope for the best. If it arrives as decent cup, exclaim perfetto, if not make another face, shrug your shoulders and hope for better next time!

Caffè Lungo.
In Italy, if you don’t want to risk the Americano challenge you could try asking for Caffè Lungo which should get you a long coffee made with espresso.

Café Allongé.
This should get you the desired coffee in France. Just be careful that occasionally you could end up with a filter (drip) coffee. You can try Americano but the two dangers in France is the large cup of watery coffee or the French just shrugging their shoulders and looking at you as if you’re mad and have asked them a complicated theoretical physics question!

Café Largo.
This should do the trick in Spain … remembering to roll that ‘r’ !! But occasionally you may have to enter into the Italian game of a little hot water (con poca agua caliente).

My bad Portuguese pronounces this as Abba-tan-ah-doh but it generally works with getting an ‘extended’ espresso.
Be warned Americano can sometimes get you instant coffee in Portugal!


In our travels across a small part of southern Europe it is hard to disagree that Italy has the best coffee and coffee culture. But using a little local knowledge and language can get you decent coffee no matter where you are.

But the morning coffee is not just about the coffee … what do you have with it. Some small, sweet, pastry type thing surely!!
We have raved on previous blogs about Italian cornetto (a sweet croissant filled with jam, cream, chocolate) and cannoli (crispy pastry roll with creamy ricotta filling and flavourings of lemon, chocolate, pistachio). Perfetto!
In France you can have pain au chocolat, raisin etc. but our current favorite is the Portuguese Pastel de Nata, a small custard tart with crispy pastry.
I’m not sure about Spain … they didn’t seem to have a sweet morning coffee accompaniment. The locals in southern Spain seemed to prefer bread and ham. Very nice ham they have too … but missing the point really 🙂



Many years ago (2001) on a Motorhome holiday in New Zealand we were free camping next to a river just outside Martinborough. It was a very clear night and the stars on display were amazing. All four of us (the boys were 6 & 3 then) lay on a blanket and looked at the night sky for ages.

Last night in the Pyrenees is the first time I’ve had a star gazing experience that comes close. We are free camping at Lac de Payolle (1200m). It was a very clear night again and the only light pollution was the odd camper candle/torch. We are quite close to the Pic du Midi and I can understand why they built the astronomical observatory there.

No camera shots of the stars would do them justice so here’s a pic of our campsite!

LdM campsite
Freecamping amongst the mountains, horses and cows!