The Big Trip, Day 6 (later) night time in Barcelona

After writing that last blog post, I end up chatting for ages to fellow travellers in the Wild Rover Irish pub. As you could tell from the name, it’s a haven for English speaking tourists who don’t want anything too… Spanish. One of them is a retired engineer from North Carolina called Phil, and the others are a father, mother and son from Maidenhead in Kent. Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 6 (later) night time in Barcelona”

The Big Trip, Day 6: Barcelona – such a beautiful horizon

Distance covered today: 124 miles

Total distance covered: 1051 miles

After the unfortunate discovery that I had no data in Andorra, I’m keen to move on as soon as possible after posting this morning’s blog. After all, tempting though it is, I can’t stay in Bar Valor all day, and that’s the only place I can get the data I’ve planned the whole trip round. So before leaving I load up Google Maps with the route to a recommended parking spot in Barcelona, and head off. Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 6: Barcelona – such a beautiful horizon”

The Big Trip, Day 5: Into the Pyrenees to Andorra

Distance covered today: 121 miles

Total distance covered: 927 miles

I can’t say I’m sorry to be leaving Toulouse, but the next stretch looks challenging – I’m going up an actual mountain range. Given that the van doesn’t do well with hills, this is a bit of an intimidating prospect. On the bright side, I’m expecting some spectcaular views. Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 5: Into the Pyrenees to Andorra”

The Big Trip, Day 4: Toulouse – a Tale of Two Cities

Distance covered today: 198 miles

Total distance covered: 806 miles

This is my lengthiest single stretch of drive so far, and it takes me to the biggest place i’ve yet visited – Toulouse, capital of the Occitanie region in southern France. Far more so than Orleans or Rouen, Toulouse seems like a proper city; the 4th largest in France, according to Wikipedia. You can tell even before you reach the place. The wide, multi-lane highways with their attendant malls and car showrooms remind me of nothing so much as driving into Los Angeles. Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 4: Toulouse – a Tale of Two Cities”

The Big Trip, Day 2, later: Made of Orleans

Distance covered today: 130 miles

Total distance so far: 433 miles

I like this blogging from anywhere lark. I’m currently sitting in L’Hendrix Pub in Orleans, having finally found a good bar to drink in. There’s Mahalia Jackson on the jukebox, and a minute ago it was BB King. Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 2, later: Made of Orleans”

The Big Trip, Day 2, morning: around Rouen

I was up quite late writing the last blog post, so I wake up correspodingly late. Well, 8:30, anyway. Which is of course 7:30 back in England (till this weekend anyway). Confusing.

It’s chilly in the van – 8.5 degrees C according to the thermostat. But I know I can’t get any gas refills on the continent (no international standard), so rather than waste any on heating I snuggle under the duvet for a brief lie in.  Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 2, morning: around Rouen”

The Big Trip, Day 1: Long Road to Rouen

Today’s mileage: 303 miles.

Yes, I couldn’t resist calling it that. It has been a bloody long day though, with most of it spent driving and the rest sort of… hanging around. Lots of new exciting experiences though, the most interesting of which was the Eurotunnel.   Continue reading “The Big Trip, Day 1: Long Road to Rouen”

The Big Trip: Preparation

So, as mentioned in the last van-related post, I’ve been thinking of taking the plunge and doing a drive to mainland Europe. Well, thinking no more – it’s happening tomorrow!

This took a surprising amount of preparation. I already have RAC cover, but I had to call them up and add European breakdown cover just in case – for some bizarre reason in this day and age, you can’t do it online. I also had to call my insurer, who do actually cover me for driving in Europe, to tell them precisely when I’m going to be there.

Then there’s all the requirements for driving in Europe generally. You have to have a GB sticker (if you don’t have an EU licence plate, which I don’t). You need beam deflectors for your headlights, so they don’t shine in the usual leftward direction and dazzle oncoming traffic. You have to carry a warning triangle for breakdowns, along with a hi-vis jacket for every passenger. You have to carry a spare set of bulbs for the vehicle lights. If you wear glasses (I do), you have to make sure you have a spare pair with you. In France, it’s a legal requirement to carry two miniature breathalysers (there’s some doubt as to whether this is actually enforced, but better safe than sorry).

 

Fortunately, nearly all of this is available in the handy AA Euro Travel Kit, which I picked up from Halfords for the princely sum of £20. The one thing it doesn’t include is the breathalysers for France, but they sell those too, for £4 a pair – not too bad. I also picked up a 12v tyre inlfator and a can of Holts Tyreweld for punctures – no idea if that actually works, but worth a try just in case.

You also need to actually get to Europe. There were a couple of options – the ferry or the Eurotunnel. I chose the Eurotunnel; it’s about 50% more expensive, but it gets you there in comfort in 35 minutes, rather than a queasy wallow across the Channel in a slow boat for several hours. It’s surprisingly easy to book tickets – their online booking system is very easy to use. All told, it’s £199 – £106 to get to Calais, £93 to get back.

The plan is to have a lesiurely drive south through France and Spain, ultimately ending up in Barcelona, where my friend Tom (see earlier posts) is now teaching English. I’m not in any hurry to get there, which is fortunate. The route avoiding as many expensive toll roads as possible is 1024 miles, and Google maps estimates the journey time as 21 hours. My van being as slow as it is, of course, it’s probably more like 24 hours.

I want to end up in Barcelona no later than Friday, to catch up with Tom over the weekend, so that gives me five days to do the trip there. It’s plenty of time,, but I’d like to stop off and visit a few places on the way. Rouen is likely my first stop, followed by Orleans, Limoges and Toulouse (though I’m unlikely to have much time to spend in these places). Then across the Pyrennees mountains into Spain via Andorra, and then on to Barcelona.

I must admit, I’m a bit scared as well as excited. This is nearly two weeks of total self-sufficiency in unfamiliar surroundings. I’ve driven on the right hand side of the road before, in the USA, but never in a right hand drive vehicle – that’s going to be weird. Especially at roundabouts, which there are a lot of. I’ll have to get used to giving way to traffic from the left rather than the right.

And of course the languages are different. I know many Europeans speak good English, but I don’t want to rely on that. I have enough schoolboy French to get by (probably) in France, but my Spanish is limited to what I’ve picked up watching Robert Rodriguez movies, which isn’t much. I’m going to be reliant on Google a lot of the time (for navigation too), so I’m hoping the phone signal holds up when I need it to!

Then there’s those mountains. I’m not especially scared of heights, but a few years ago we did a drive around the island of Gran Canaria, and the narrow mountainside roads, with no safety barrier and a giant drop right next to you, were a tense experience. Particularly when impatient coach drivers blasted past at suicidal speeds, nearly knocking over all the roadside wreaths for accident victims scattered everywhere. The Pyrennees road looks, from what I can tell, not unlike that one.

Still, I’m hoping the excitement overcomes the trepidation. I can do this. I know I can. If all goes well I should have data access via my phone, so I’ll try to blog on the trip as frequently as I can. I’ll likely not be able to review (or even see) Doctor Who or The Walking Dead for the next couple of weekends, but I can do that when I get back. In the mean time, no spoilers please 🙂

So, keep your eyes peeled for more posts, hopefully starting tomorrow when I actually reach France and find somewhere to stay the night…

Vanlife, the third week. Day 16: Sunday

Day 16: Sunday

This morning, I wake up with the inevitable hangover that follows such a night.

It’s raining outside. Quite heavy rain in fact, and it makes a fair racket pattering against the roof and skylights of the van. It’s actually quite a soothing noise though – there’s a reason you can buy all those relaxation CDs with the sound of rainfall – and helps to soothe my aching head while I gradually recover. Continue reading “Vanlife, the third week. Day 16: Sunday”

Vanlife, the third week. Day 15: Saturday

Day 15: Saturday

So yes, I did spend last night in the van, despite not actually having to. And I’m going to do it again!

The reason is to go out for a proper evening with Layla, with neither of us having to work the next day (or meet a mortgage adviser, in her case). As we’ve been going to the Royal Standard so frequently, we decide to go a little further afield, to the Empress pub on Thoday Street. Continue reading “Vanlife, the third week. Day 15: Saturday”