Traveller and tourist

On our trip we are both travellers and tourists. The former seems a more desirable label than the latter. We tend to spend a lot of time trying to avoid and berating the latter, especially when they come in coach loads. This is somewhat like complaining about the traffic jam you are stuck in when you are actually the traffic jam!!


Duomo in Pienza, with hardly any other tourists in the shot!


By contrast my photo of Duomo in Siena had rather more tourists in the shot.

Duomo in Siena


A six months’ trip necessitates you spending more time as traveller than a two week holiday. We were, for example, in a tiny perfectly preserved medieval village of Pienza, a day or so ago. It has loads of picturesque lanes, buildings, touristy shops and the requisite Duomo. Our purchases, however, were four 7cm woodscrews and a box grater!

Less touristy items!


Amongst the tourist shops (we did buy cheese and postcards) we found a very small hardware shop (think two Ronnies ‘fork handles’ place). I’m not sure we would have managed to buy 7cm woodscrews without Google translate on Kath’s phone.

The screws were required to reattach the protective cover for our 12v sockets. The box grater as a replacement for a cheap grater that twice took lumps out of my fingertips!



Choosing Gertie

We’d hired campervans a few times on holiday, but when it came to choosing a van we felt we could live in for six months solid, we knew we needed to get it right. Motorhomes are expensive.

Firstly, we decided we wanted left-hand drive. The whole six month trip will be on the continent, so it made sense.

Secondly, we were pretty certain it’d have to be second-hand, as new motorhomes can cost upwards of £60,000.

But other than that, we didn’t have many pre-conceived ideas about what to look for.

In June 2015 we went to our first motorhome show, at Paulton’s Park in Hampshire. It was just a few days after my Mum died, and it was surreal to be looking at motorhomes while the grief was still so raw. But it probably did me the world of good to do something unconnected with her death for a few hours. At that show, we wandered vaguely in and out of dozens of vans, liking some, loving some, dismissing others. By the end we had agreed on a few things:

  • The bed arrangement was all-important. Some vans have a bed you make up each day using the table and bench seats. I could not imagine doing this every day for six months, so we decided we wanted a van where the bed could stay permanently made up. I also felt I liked the idea of being able to lie in bed in the morning while Ignatius gets up to make the tea.
  • We did not want too big a van, as it’s harder to drive around cramped European towns.
  • The upholstery would have to be something neutral we could live with.
  • We’d seen a very nice, brand new van we really liked. Compact at 6m long but had very good storage arrangements inside. But it was £55,000….

In autumn 2015 we went to a second show, somewhere near Bath. By this time we’d done a lot of  research online, looked at layouts, become acquainted with some of the major manufacturers such as Hymer. We’d also discovered a company called Bundesvan (see Links page for details) who specialise in importing mostly German second-hand motorhomes to the UK. They’ll handle all the hassle and paperwork required to collect the van and re-register it here. We knew they were going to be at the show.

So at this second show, we focused on looking at as many Hymers as we could find, and spent a long time talking to Sue and Bob from Bundesvan. By the end we’d narrowed our decision down to two models, and felt either would do. It was just a case of finding a good second-hand van of either model, and sending Bundesvan out to buy it on our behalf…

Luck was on our side. In December, Sue contacted us to say they’d bought a Hymer B508 that was 7 years old but in superb condition, and would soon bring it back to the UK. We could go and look at it and if we wanted it, it was ours. In the end it wasn’t till January that they managed to bring it back. Meanwhile they’d sent us some photos, and it did look to be everything we wanted.

So about a week after they brought it over, we went to visit them and see it. We were pretty certain that we’d buy it, unless we spotted something seriously wrong.

I think it was love at first sight. Everything was as we wanted it to be. Milage was low, the upholstery was in great condition. Ignatius gave it a test drive and thought it was perfect. It already had a TV and satellite dish installed. So we handed over a deposit, and left the van with Bundesvan to re-register etc. Thankfully in those pre-Brexit days, the exchange rate with Euros favoured us.

We collected the van in February 2016, brought her home, squeezed her into our driveway (there are only inches to spare when reversing her through our gate posts) and named her Gertie. Over the next couple of months we had a few alterations made:

  • Added a bike rack on the back
  • Added a solar panel on the roof, so that the leisure battery charges up whenever the sun’s out, meaning we don’t need to be on electrical hook-up
  • Added an LPG gas tank underneath, replacing the bottled gas for cooking/heating. It holds more, and can be filled at petrol stations. (This also freed up the external locker that had housed the bottled gas. We now call that cupboard the ‘wine cellar’. Priorities, my friends!)
  • Replaced the TV. Just could not get the thing to work properly – there was some sort of intermittent fault. It didn’t help that all instruction books were in German. Satellite works well, which is good as that’s the expensive bit of kit!

We also bought loads of accessories for her of course, and had a few trial trips in her, which I’ll write about in a future post. I love the layout and wouldn’t change a thing.