The naive twosome continued on their adventures May 2001…..
We were heading in the general direction of Italy – we had a ‘plan’.
1. We’d start our working/travelling lark from Italy.
2. We’d get there and Mark would instantly pick up a teaching job.
3. Everyone had told us that there was a lack of English teachers right across mainland Europe. Simple!
But first, we were on holiday! We were going to meander down to the south of France, turn left and head into Italy on the coastal route.
So, from Ghent, we, of course, headed almost back on ourselves and visited Luxembourg.
We pulled up at the main train station – we’d been told that we could pick up a map from there and maybe some advice about where to stay.
We parked next to another camper van which made ours look tiny in comparison! It had German number plates and looked altogether interesting and the biz to us!
The owner popped out and we took a chance and asked if he spoke English as our German was non-existent!
He stared at us for a moment or two and then broke into a broad smile – G’day! he said! I don’t speak English, I speak pretty good Australian though!
Turns out that he and his wife had just bought the van in Germany and were going to travel around Europe in it before selling it again at the end of their trip. It’s the done thing apparently!
Our new Australian friends – Frank and Brenda – showed us around their van and we chatted over a cup of tea! (We found that friends are made instantly when travelling in a camper!)
We exchanged email addresses and off we went! This was in 2001 … we are still in contact to this day – after a half hour encounter in a car park in Luxembourg!
We found a campsite in the north of this tiny country. It was like staying in a slightly tatty country park!
There looked to be a lot of long term residents with campers that really weren’t going anywhere fast!
We spent a couple of days exploring Luxembourg City where they were hosting a special sculpture exhibition of full sized cows ..
They were dotted all around the city, everyone of them painted in a different design or pattern or advertisement, standing up, lying down, on the street corners, tucked into the shop fronts, down alleyways …
It was fun spotting them! Then there was the countryside with it’s magnificent German style palaces, Luxembourg packs a lot of architectural eye-candy in for such a small place – and the fuel is cheap too!
We spent a couple of weeks after Luxembourg wending our way down the Eastern side of France heading for the south ..
Nancy, Dijon, Puys en Velay, Aix en Provence, Avignon and finally Saintes Maries de la Mer where the Camargue National park is and it’s beautiful horses.
We arrived in Saintes Maries just as a big, huge festival was about to take place. Sounded fun – taking some icon Madonna through the town, down the beach and into the sea…
Then we discovered that not only was it a big festival with folks coming from all over Europe, these folks were all gypsies.
Our instincts told us that we should leave and come back another time …. we didn’t listen!
Just outside the town is a gorgeous stately home with beautiful gardens so we parked up in their carpark just inside their very grand gates and walked to the house .. which was closed up and locked down!
So we walked around the sides of the house, gazed at the garden for a minute or two and then went back to have a cuppa tea ….
First thing we noticed was that there was glass all over the drivers side on the floor. ….
The next was that the window had been smashed….
We got inside Girly and immediately saw that our rucksack with all, I mean ALL our camera stuff was gone and so was my handbag with my purse inside.
The rucksack had been tucked out of sight behind the drivers seat and the handbag was under the dining table.
Usually when we left the camper we closed all the curtains including the ones that went all the way around the cab of the camper, but we forgot (newbies that we were.)
We didn’t have a mobile phone, so we headed to town to the police station to report the robbery. The station was closed for lunch.
We went to a pay phone and called the insurance company and you can imagine our delight when they informed us that all our worldly goods were covered ….. by our home insurance policy in the UK.
Ummm … we didn’t have a home insurance policy, we didn’t have a home – the camper was our home. We specifically took out the insurance with this company because their policy clearly stated that camera gear was covered. The ‘best’ part of this story was that the company stuffed us beautifully. We argued, we read the specific wording to them and still they wouldn’t agree. So, they told us to send us the policy statement showing where it covered the camera equipment. Now, remember, we are living in a camper van, we are in a foreign country and rather stressed from the break-in. In our haste, we bought an envelope and popped the whole agreement in the post to them. WE DIDN’T PHOTOCOPY IT.
We followed up a few weeks later, and they emailed a link to the policy wording WHICH THEY HAD CHANGED. Of course, we had no proof because we were dumb enough to send them the original.
Mark nearly got into a fight with a gypsy after coming out of the phone box, trying to get money for a wilted ‘lucky’ twig of shrub of some description! It very nearly wasn’t very lucky for that particular gypsy!
From that night on and for a long long time afterwards I refused to ‘wild camp’. It was touch and go as to whether we were even going to continue, then we discovered AIRES!
Parking just for us campers! Usually free or a nominal amount to stay there. Safety in numbers. The aires usually have water freely available to top up the tanks and drains for the icky stuff! Some even have electric points for hook up!
There are a distinct lack of photos from this time, we had a few that we’d managed to have developed before the cameras were stolen (pre-digital!) but there were photos from Holland and after that were completely gone.
We bought a reasonably priced SLR in Avignon or somewhere near there – but it wasn’t the greatest! Hey-ho! We slowly recovered from the shock of being broken into. I didn’t even want to have Girly out of our sight for the longest time!
We also bought a mobile phone before we headed much further – ” Will it work outside of France?” Of COURSE it will.
2 centimetres into Italy at Ventimiglia – it stopped working.
However …. On the MAJOR plus side – we’d made it to ITALIA! :-D