Thursday, 29 August 2013

Top Tips you should read before embarking on a European road trip

1. Use a Travelex Euro/Multi-currency cash passport. This card doesn't charge you for cash withdrawals, the commission is low, the website is reliable and it's quick and easy to top-up any amount of your choice over the internet. Way better than getting charged by your UK bank every single time you get out a wad of cash. You can also use it for internet transactions.

2. Shop at Lidl. Carrefour, Super U and E.Leclerc's are cheap but Lidl is much cheaper and its stock is good. I'd never shopped in one in the UK because I'm a snob. Oh, and remember to take carrier bags or a backpack to carry your goods as plastic bags from supermarkets can be expensive.

3. When using a sat-nav, spell your destination correctly. It might seem simple, but if you're visiting little towns or villages there are usually many incredibly similar spellings where there's an extra 'l' or 'e' which may be the other side of the country. (Luckily, we caught our mistake just in time and only went an hour out of our way.)

4. Over-estimate the time the sat-nav tells you, unless you're in a ferrari. Camper vans take a while longer to get up mountain passes and hair pin bends.

5. Don't trust tap water, even if it says it's drinkable, it's not worth the risk. Lidl will sort you out for 2litre bottles for 16c each.

6. Fast-food is more expensive than you think, and usually you're better off buying a yummy fresh baguette, ham and cheese. Support the local economy!

7. McDonalds' in Italy does not allow you to use wifi unless you have an Italian mobile number. French McDonalds' is fine but you're won't be able to connect outside of opening hours.

8. Diesel is expensive in Italy, less so in Greece and France. Shop around (if you can!) and you can usually find a bargain at the supermarket gas station. Don't buy any fuel on a motorway if you can help it because you're charged a fortune for service (the guy who has to fill your tank up - you're not allowed to do it yourself) as well as a premium for the stuff itself. Plan ahead!

9. Prepare for tolls. Some are much more expensive than others, especially if you're travelling through a lot of tunnels. Do your research online before you head off anywhere otherwise you can smash your budget in a few hours and that's sure to cause many a sad face.

10. Be aware of dodgy areas. We referred to a special camping guidebook which pointed out parts of motorways or tolls that we should be wary of. You don't want anyone puncturing your tyres or grabbing something through the window...

11. In the Med you should eat as much fresh fruit, veg and produce as you can because it's usually a total bargain and super delicious. Once you get to France the food returns to the standard in the UK: extortionate and tasteless. Boo!

12. Be nice to each other. If you're the passenger, don't fall asleep.

13. If there's lots of Germans, it's a good campsite.

That'll do. Enjoy!

Sospel to Vallerauges: gorges, castles and McDonalds.

From Sospel we stayed in the mountains and on to Entrevaux, a little fortified town situated beside a rapid river. We camped beside a lovely lake which was popular with families using paddleboards, canoes and floats. Pete decided to borrow a child's canoe that was resting on the edge of the water, and when he came back he returned to three young boys with their arms folded and bottom lips stuck out. Oops.

We found another wild swimming spot beneath an old stone bridge, away from a more touristy spot along the river. As we drove through the Verdon Gorge, the scenery was unforgettable. Prehistoric rock formations that can only be appreciated with the human eye - the camera shrinks it's enormity.
Leaving the gorge, we consulted our Wild Swimming book and stopped at Lac Ste Croix. After a severely underestimated walk to the said point, we were disappointed to find it full of people. As we carefully stepped down a steep rocky pathway we squeezed ourself in with the Germans and attempted to get to the jumping rock. After much hoo-ha, we made it into the water and in the space of about 10 minutes everybody decided to leave! I don't know what it was that caused everyone to evacuate... perhaps they had to get a bus. As I climbed the rock I realised that I hadn't ever jumped off anything, really. And I became very scared and for about half an hour I sat on top of the rock staring at the water. Pete, meanwhile, was doing backflips and impressing those passing in boats, even getting a round of applause from one group. When I finally plopped in it really hurt and wasn't fun at all. Stupid rock. I went for a long swim in the flat, empty lake.

Living in a van means you don't have a washing machine, obviously. And when you're on the road a lot, your washing builds up and up and up until you realise that it's getting quite pongy and all of a sudden you simply must do washing. At our campsite we managed to shove in about 7kg of washing (including bed sheets, towels etc.), and once we set up our tri-washing line it covered our entire camp pitch, leaving us camouflaged but clean and content.

We were missing the beach so we headed to the coast at La Ciotat. We met up with one of Pete's old friends for the evening and got hideously drunk, terribly bitten by mosquitoes and the only way to console ourselves the morning after was to head straight to McDonalds and eat a load of crap and glug a 2 litre carton of orange juice.

Next stop was a Cool Camping site just outside the sweet town of Vallerauges which was run by a lovely English/Dutch family. A small river ran through the area and on each side were perfect jumping platforms for Pete to do some more showing off. We had a lot of fun there and I wasn't such a wimp about jumping off the rock this time. Out of all the campsites, we'd probably return there as it was brilliant value for money and had a great friendly atmosphere. (