2018 was certainly a momentous year for us. Getting the keys to the motorhome and embarking on a trip around Europe as complete beginners was an unforgettable and fantastic experience that we can’t wait to continue. We thought we’d take a look back at some of our most memorable moments, good and bad as we learnt from scratch how to become the more confident motorhomers we are today. From motorhome mishaps to amazing adventures, here’s our top 10 (in no particular order!)
1. The Day of the Dustcart
Besançon, a lovely town in Eastern France, was the location for our first real hair-raising motorhome moment just 3 weeks into our trip! The town is home to a Unesco world heritage listed citadel seemingly teetering up on top of a steep hill and we were driving towards it, following our trusty SatNav and she told us to ‘turn left’. Instinctively we just knew we shouldn’t. We could see the road was narrow and steep but for some absurd reason we took the turn and headed up the hill. Within a few feet we had a sinking feeling, knowing that we’d made a mistake and cursing ourselves for doing it! Unfortunately there was no turning back at this point and we gingerly made our way up the winding road holding our breath and hoping nothing would come the other way. That hope was soon scuppered though when a thundering great dustcart suddenly appeared from around a blind bend and loomed towards us. Our hearts sunk and we looked at each other in panic. What were we going to do?? Amazingly and luckily for us, it only took a few seconds and the dustcart driver made a hasty retreat, reversing back up the hill at an astounding speed, obviously knowing the road like the back of his hand. They must have reversed for about 2 minutes with us and now a queue or other vehicles behind us following them up the hill until there was a place wide enough to pass. ‘Phew’ we thought, ‘that was close’, but then we realised we would have to get back down ………
2. Making Friends
We were visiting Barr, a beautiful town on the Alsace wine route on a blisteringly hot day. The town was quite deserted despite being July and we were walking around getting hotter and hotter and it was just about lunchtime. Spotting some nice shady steps leading up to the town hall we decided to take a pew and sit out of the sun for a while eating our picnic lunch and enjoying a cold drink. A few minutes later a family on bikes turned up, also noticing the space in the shade and having the same idea. They sat themselves down just a few feet from us and got out their own packed lunches and it wasn’t long before they noticed us speaking English and said hello. It turns out they were a Canadian family having a 7 week European tour, not in a motorhome like us, but taking trains, walking and cycling their way from place to place. We instantly connected over our outlook and love of travel and unlike many people you meet on holiday and never see again, we met up with them again just a few weeks later in Turin and hope to meet again on travels to come.
3. The Windiest Night Ever
Pitigliano will forever be etched in our memories as the windiest night ever! It was late September and we had arrived at this beautiful old Italian hilltop town on a windy day and parked in the motorhome aire. As the day went on the wind got stronger and as we settled down for the evening Buzz started to rock from side to side. Back home our bedroom has a flat roof and can be very noisy in bad weather so we were used to that, but this was something else. As the gusts grew stronger it sounded like the roof was coming off and the the bikes were being battered. It felt like the wind was catching under the bike cover and we were convinced that when we woke up in the morning it would be ripped to shreds! We didn’t get much sleep that night and in the morning it wasn’t any better but the bikes and cover were fine and no damage done – except to our nerves! These days if it’s windy we made sure to check the direction of the wind and park head on, rather than sideways to it, and if possible park between two other motorhomes to act as shields. You live and learn.
4. A 12 Point Turn
Our first time in the mountains saw us getting into a bit of a sticky situation trying to find a place to park. It was the end of July in the Vosges and we were still new at this and in the early learning stages. We could see some motorhomes parked in what looked like a field car park and presumed it must be a place we could stop. There seemed to be an opening through a fence which we thought would lead us there so we went through the gateway and started making our way over. It soon became clear that the ground was hideously uneven and as we got closer we realised it wasn’t your average parking place. It looked like a private site of some sort and all the motorhomers sitting outside in their chairs seemed to be fascinated by our approach, putting down their books to sit and stare! Feeling exceptionally uneasy at this point we realised we shouldn’t be there and set about getting back out. Unfortunately that was easier said than done, involving a 12 point turn, a breath-holding turn through a very tight exit and a jumpy ride over the bumpy ground. Slightly red-faced we let out a sigh of relief as we made our way out and soon after found a proper place to stop!
5. My First Ever Drive of the Motorhome
For me (Marcella), the thought of driving a 3.8 ton motorhome twice as long as my car was quite terrifying. I love a small car that you can nip through small gaps in and is easy to park and Buzz is the complete opposite of that. I managed to put it off for quite a few weeks before my first attempt and funnily enough I think that actually helped me. When we first got the motorhome it seemed enormous but having been a passenger for a few weeks over several hundred miles it started to feel more normal. By the time I got behind the wheel it didn’t seem nearly so daunting and the reality was nowhere near as difficult as I had imagined. Saying that I was still nervous but it was good to get the first drive out of the way and it was a satisfying feeling to know I had finally done it.
6. Stuck in an Aire
Having been looking for somewhere to park overnight on our visit to Annecy we eventually decided to leave the city and park at an aire at La Balme de Sillingy about 15 minutes drive away. As we arrived it was getting dark and the barrier was open so without thinking we drove in and parked up, then got on with levelling Buzz. Once set up I decided to take a look at the ticket machine to pay for our night’s stay, it was at this point that I realised I had made a potentially expensive mistake.. By now the barrier was closed and we should have stopped outside and got our ticket before entering. The problem is without a ticket you can’t get out and if you’re not outside with the motorhome on the sensor, you can’t get a ticket and without a ticket you could end up with a 68euro fine. Ooops, now we had a problem, can’t get out, can’t get a ticket! At this point a French couple came over to find out what the problem was, after much discussion in broken French and English they understood our problem. Now luck as it happened was on our side and their son was visiting them and had parked his car down the road. Without a moment’s hesitation he went and got his car pulled it up to the barrier so that we could get a ticket, avoid the potential fine and more importantly get out in the morning – highlighting just how helpful the motorhome community is and that language is no barrier to communication.
7. Day of the Hairpins
Our run through the Dolomites led to the most exciting and somewhat tiring day’s driving we had done so far on our tour. Driving a 2.4m wide and 7.5m (with bikes) long motorhome through some of the smaller tighter routes this day, our last in the Dolomites took us up and over Passo Pordoi via at least 30 hairpin bends, climbing 100’s of metres up the Strada Regionale delle Dolomiti. At the top it all became worthwhile with some stunning scenery and we stopped in the car park for a beer and piece of Apple Strudel before heading down the other side and on to Cortina D’Ampezzo. Now I can say it is fairly hard work getting over 3.5tons up the side of a mountain through all those very tight turns but while we were enjoying our break we were astounded to see a car and big caravan pull into the car park!! That must have been REALLY difficult – in fact we couldn’t really work out how they had managed it at all. Heading down the other side there is a sign letting you know you have another mere 33 more hairpins before you get off this stretch of road. Some of the turns are just 50 to 75m apart making it exceptionally snug in places. As we pulled up in Cortina D’Ampezzo we worked out that we had driven through no less than 100 hairpin bends altogether that day!
8. In Awe of the Alps
About a month into our trip we started our ascent into the French Alps. We’ve been skiing several times and are used to seeing mountains covered in snow but we’d never visited in summer before and weren’t prepared for the sheer beauty that would soon be surrounding us. The Alps really were awesome in every way from their huge scale, high and wide, to their craggy peaks and sheer rockfaces, not to mention the glaciers gleaming white. The mountains towered above us on all sides making us feel very small and we had to stop and stare just to take it all in. We’ll never forget out first experience of motorhoming in the mountains and the wonderful scenes that unfolded before us with every turn.
As we start planning for the next part of our trip we are sure there will be many more memorable motorhome moments and we can’t wait to find out what they will be!