France, Spain and Portugal: Flip-flops in December, hurrah!

France, Spain and Portugal: Flip-flops in December, hurrah!
This is us with a goat in France. There is no reason for me adding a photo of us with a goat. And yet here it is.
This is us with a goat in France. There is no reason for me adding a photo of us with a goat. And yet here it is.

Well, hello there. Shall we first address the issue of me being extremely lame and not posting a blog for, ahem, six months? I am aware that this means I have zero self-discipline and I am a very naughty sausage. I have no other excuse than I am enjoying life very much, but really I think it’s because I’m VERY easily distracted, especially where wine is concerned.

I have actually written a lot in those months, I just haven’t been organised/patient enough to upload and edit the photos cause that part is well fiddly and takes flippin ages. So, my self-inflicted punishment is saying three Hail Mary’s and drinking five Bloody Mary’s; I hope you agree that is a fair and reasonable penance.

Strasbourg
Strasbourg

 

The last blog left us in Strasbourg in early October, and from there we made our way down through Switzerland to the South of France, following the coast into Spain, and along the entire east and south coast. We made it all the way to Albuferia in Portgual before making an abrupt turnaround on 7th December to head back to the UK for Christmas.

In that couple of months, we had several sets of visitors come out to join us and discovered that we are a lot more popular now that we have left the UK. Merely a coincidence, I’m sure. We did a fair bit of partying in tourist spots, we chilled out in remote locations, ate some of the best food we’ve ever known (and some of the not so great food!) and I’m extremely proud to say that we honoured every single Drunk Monday within that time.

The world's best Indian meal. I still wake up crying for it now.
The world’s best Indian meal. I still wake up crying for it now.

Jumping back to where we last left you, I have to say that my enduring memory of Strasbourg, even with it being one of the most beautiful cities we’ve visited, is the fact that we ate THE best Indian meal we’ve ever had (and we’ve had quite a few!). Honestly, it’s worth booking a trip just to eat that again (it’s called Le Madras if anyone does actually go there). I actually had tears in my eyes at the end of the meal because I was so sad it was over.

A wasp sting under the eye is an excellent alternative to Botox.
A wasp sting under the eye is an excellent alternative to Botox.

Talking of tears in my eyes, I have to mention that at some point in Strasbourg I got stung by a wasp just under my left eye. Please folks, don’t try this at home. It stings like a smack round the chops with the underside of a golf shoe, and leaves you looking like you’ve been in the ring with Mohammed Ali.

After Strasbourg we headed south to meet our pals, Jo & Ju, at Geneva airport. We were destined only to spend a few days in Switzerland, which is a bloody good job really as it’s the most expensive place we’ve been to so far on this trip. Where we’d been paying around €18 a night for a campsite, the one we stayed at in Solothurn was €55 euros! I want a gold-plated camping pitch and complimentary teeth whitening for that amount!

We were full of excitement to collect Jo & Ju, who were going to be with us for just 48hrs. We picked them up from Geneva airport in The Beast (the Winnebago), and as we were about to drive away there was a frantic bang on the door. They’d only brought our other friends Andrea & Nick with them as well, as a surprise! I think I squealed loud enough to set off airport defence systems.

Suffice to say, that weekend, things got firmly out of hand. On the first night Phil brought out his beloved karaoke microphones (I’ve no idea where this new obsession comes from – Phil has never sang in public, or entered a karaoke bar, since I’ve known him). Ju, at first, was giving it “I don’t do karaoke” but by midnight you wouldn’t have been able to prise the microphone from his cold, dead fingers. He even fell asleep still clutching it.

Jo, Ju, Andrea & Nick joined us in Geneva.
Jo, Ju, Andrea & Nick joined us in Geneva.

We spent Saturday in Geneva city centre, but having checked into a campsite just over the French border, there was much confusion for the rest of the weekend about whether we were paying in Euros or Swiss Francs. It might sound simple but after several drinks we had no idea what we were doing and just held out our hands with both currencies like children who can’t count. We rounded off our weekend with the highly offensive game ‘Cards Against Humanity’ and eventually bundled them back onto a plane, broken and in need of medical care.

Things have a habit of getting out of hand with this lot.
Things have a habit of getting out of hand with this lot.
Cannes-tastic
Cannes-tastic

After we’d finally recovered from their visit, which involved lying down in a darkened room, whimpering softly for a couple of days, we realised the weather was gloomy and it was only going to get worse so we made the executive decision to belt out the 362 miles directly south within two days, to reach the South of France as soon as humanly possible. It was definitely the right decision; we arrived in 25 degree sunshine and had beach views. The flip-flops and shorts came out and stayed out for nearly 7 weeks. Cannes lived up to it’s glitzy image and we stayed for four nights reveling in the warmth and gawping at the massive yachts.

 

We found this town on our travels and risked life and limb to get this photo. The price we pay for comedy moments!
We found this town on our travels and risked life and limb to get this photo. The lengths we go to for comedy moments!

When we left Cannes we intended to try and spend some time in St Tropez but as we drove through the town we weren’t really enamoured with it after the more impressive glitz of Cannes and so pushed on further south to a small port town called Cavalaire-Sur-Mer. Another good decision as we found an enormous campsite almost to ourselves and the town was really pretty, if a little sleepy in October.

 

A road in Marseilles city centre that ends up being 2.6m wide at the bottom. Gulp.
Look all the way down the road and you can see the exact point where we got wedged in, and consequently yelled at by many French men.

By this time we were expecting our second set of visitors and were to collect them from Carcassone airport. En route we encountered a slight hiccup as we passed through Marseilles, when our satnav (which I’m beginning to think is possessed by the spirit of Jeremy Beadle) took us right into the centre of the city and directed us down a street with a road that is 2.6 metres wide. The Beast is 2.7m wide, and cars were parked all down one side of the road. Gulp. The road got narrower and narrower until we were basically wedged between a bollard and a parked car, with a long row of cars behind us filled with irate drivers leaning on their horns. Eventually Phil and some of the men in the huge crowd that gathered physically lifted the parked car a foot to the right and we got through with about 2mm to spare!

A €10 Aires in Carcassone, right next to the beach.
A €10 Aires in Carcassone, right next to the beach.

Once we were close to Carcassone we decided to try staying in an ‘Aires’ which are parking areas specifically for motorhomes, which are sometimes free or at most a few euros. We hadn’t tried them previously because we were easing ourselves into life on the road and you aren’t guaranteed an electric hook-up, and for me the fact that you’re not in a ‘secure’ campsite means I’m a little more nervous, mainly because I won’t leave her royal ladyship, Madame Bridget, in the Winnebago unless we’re in a totally safe area. However we were very pleasantly surprised by our Aires experiences. The first night was free and we parked next to a canal. The second was €10 and was a car park right next to the beach. It really was sensational to wake up and have the beach right there in front of us. We didn’t have electric hook ups in either but we learned our lesson on the first night that the batteries give us up to 5 hours of power. So now we know just to ration it. There is the option of the generator which gives us full power but it’s a big, noisy bugger and we can imagine other campers would get pretty ticked off if we ran it.

And so, it was time for our next guests. Phil’s best friend Anthony (AKA Stack), his wife Sarah, their 14yr old son Braydon and our friend Alex. They arrived on Alex’s birthday so we had a reason to celebrate (like we need an excuse!) and so we found a great campsite, again right on the beach but this time with more facilities and electric hook-up so we could entertain our guests better.

Stack, Sarah, Braydon and Alex join us in Carcassone.
Stack, Sarah, Braydon and Alex join us in Carcassone.
Drunk Monday in Barcelona begins with breakfast booze!
Drunk Monday in Barcelona begins with breakfast booze!

Suffice to say, that weekend, things got firmly out of hand (do you detect a repetitive theme here…?) Lots of booze, a huge BBQ, a skinny-dipping Alex and several bad heads followed. We travelled south into Spain and spent Drunk Monday in Barcelona which, despite the weather taking a turn and it chucking down with rain most the day, was great fun. Somehow 14yr old Braydon always manages to be the best behaved person in our group, with this weekend being no exception. We packed them all off again to the airport on Tuesday morning and made our way further south (after spending some time lying down in a darkened room whimpering softly, obviously).

It was Bridget's turn to drive.
It was Bridget’s turn to drive.

The next two weeks, which was the first fortnight in November, we spent ‘in recovery’ in various delightful campsites down the east coast of Spain, including Villanova, La Masia and Vinaros. The weather was consistently lovely, apart from a couple of poor weather days which we use as ‘Pants Days’, meaning we don’t bother putting on proper clothes and lie around watching movies, rummaging in cupboards for snacks. As we were in Low Season and we were armed with our ACSI card, we got some great deals and were often pretty much alone in campsites.

The aftermath of a Dickens home-made party.
The aftermath of a Dickens home-made party.

This might not sound like fun but we had our trusty moped, Beauty, to get us to the action when we wanted, and it was bliss to have such gorgeous places to ourselves. Besides, it’s a scientifically proven fact that all it takes is two Dickens and a bottle of Jägermeister to make a party.

 

My Mini-Me and her Mini-Me. Things got out of hand back at The Beast.
My Mini-Me and her Mini-Me.
Things got out of hand back at The Beast.

The next significant event was the arrival of my Mini-Me, Andrea (yes the one who had banged on the door of The Beast at Geneva airport a month previously) and her wonderfully adorable mum, Maureen. Andrea is my Mini-Me because I am 5’9″, blonde, loud, uncontrollable and easily excitable, and Andrea is 5’2″, blonde, loud, uncontrollable and gets so excited she squawks. Maureen is even more pocket-sized than Andrea but equally loud and definitely uncontrollable, even with industrial strength sedatives.

 

Maureen's shopping list. A woman after my own heart!
Maureen’s shopping list. A woman after my own heart!

Maureen rents out a villa in Playa Flamenca on the Spanish coast every Winter and so it fit in perfectly with our plans to collect them both from the airport and then stick around for a few days. Maureen arranged for us to park across the road from her lovely villa and we had a glorious time soaking up the sun and getting Maureen addicted to Bloody Mary’s. Eventually, we waved goodbye to Little Mo, who probably spent the next couple of days lying down in a darkened room, whimpering softly.

 

Nick arrives as a male ally for poor Phil.
Nick arrives as a male ally for poor Phil.

We collected Nick (Andrea’s fella, the other one banging on the door at Geneva airport the previous month), which I’m sure Phil was delighted about because he’d been surrounded by noisy women all week. The following day we had a full house with Jo & Ju arriving. Once everyone was on board we moved on to the cultural hub that is Benidorm to soak up some history, architecture and fine dining.

 

 

Arriving in the cultural heart of Spain.
Arriving in the cultural heart of Spain.

I would like to report about our time in Benidorm but my memories are somewhat hazy. I do recall Jo buying old lady pyjamas for everyone in the town centre, which we all wore on the walk home, and during that walk we collected a young German beat-boxer and his mum and for some reason took them home with us. Phil thrusted his karaoke microphones upon them, Ju fell asleep in his pink owl pyjamas and we eventually realised they must be terrified and popped Zee Germans in a taxi home. Standard evening.

Louise and Kerrie join us in Marbella.
Louise and Kerrie join us in Marbella.

Once we’d dispatched the visitors at Alicante airport (cue the whimpering and darkness) we had a few days before our next visitors touched down in Malaga. Louise and Kerrie, friends I’d made in London over 10 years ago, joined us for a proper road trip and in the three nights that they were with us we stayed in three different places – Marbella, Cadiz and Seville.

A quiet night in Cadiz.
A quiet night in Cadiz.

Things got out of hand (we are at least predictable and consistent, you have to admit) but we did have a sensible moment when us three girls took a ‘Paella & Sangria Making Class’ in Seville. It was informative, the paella was delicious and we drank the Sangria in about 7 seconds. I can’t say I remember how to make an authentic paella but I do remember how ridiculously MASSIVE the pan was and how unfeasible it would be in any normal kitchen.

Giant paella madness.
Giant paella madness. That pan will not fit in the Winnebago cupboard.

Once the lovely girls had flown home from Seville, we crossed the border into Portugal. Prices dropped even further and we had a few days in a little town we found called Tavira. And there we found the best fish we have ever eaten in our lives. It was in a little unassuming place named Tres Palmeiras that looks a bit like a bus stop, and you just sit down outside on the long benches, if you can find a seat. There is no menu; they bring you bread, salad, potatoes and your drink of choice (wine, beer or soft drinks). They then bring you plates of extremely fresh fish, straight from their BBQ, and keep bringing it until you beg them to stop. We ate there twice, and ate until we were stuffed (probably 6 fish on each day), and paid €24 total on both occasions! Unbelievable.

Off-road buggying in Albuferia.
Off-road buggying in Albuferia.

Our final visitor before we turned and headed back to the UK was Stack, Phil’s best bud, who joined us for a couple of nights in Albuferia. The first night was a fairly quiet affair with me feeding him a vat of chili and us all calling it a night by 1am. The next morning the three of us did some crazy off-road buggying that really blew the cobwebs away (this was NOT your typical tourist experience!) and made it back full of adrenaline and with sand-covered faces, teeth and eyeballs.

 

A very typical Stack-sized breakfast. And yes he can, and will eat all of this.
A very typical Stack-sized breakfast. And yes he can, and will, eat all of this.

And then somehow in the next 24 hours we managed to bust Stack up so badly that he was almost pleading to go home. I think we all really need to learn how to pace ourselves.

Once we’d dropped Stack off at the airport on 7th December, it was time to set the satnav for Calais and tackle the 1370 mile journey over nine days.

Reindeer slippers, the height of driving fashion.
Reindeer slippers: the height of driving fashion. Jeremy Clarkson wears them.

As we were nearing Christmas, and I absolutely LOVE Christmas, I purchased some reindeer slippers and did most of my share of the drive home wearing them, much to Phil’s despair.

We pelted up through mainland Spain and France, not really having time to explore and feeling the temperature drop with every mile northwards. A quick stop at a lovely vet just south of Calais to get Bridget sorted so she’d be let back into the UK without any problems, and we were back on board a Channel Ferry, 104 days after setting off.

 

Back in Dover, 104 days after we'd left.
Back in sunny Dover, 104 days after we’d left.

It could have been a gloomy arrival back to dark, cold, rainy England but we were so happy at the prospect of seeing family and friends, and did I mention that I LOVE CHRISTMAS, and mum always gets tonnes of Baileys in at Christmas. Which I love. And reindeer slippers, as well as being practical and stylish driving footwear, aren’t a bad temporary substitute for flip flops.

 

 

Ich liebe Deutschland, especially the Lederhosen

Time certainly has flown since the last blog and I can say with confidence that we’ve settled into our new lifestyle pretty well now. It’s 7 weeks since we left home and although we have no real structure to our days, neither of us are ever bored or short of things to do. This is mainly because I’m very easily amused, and Phil is usually busy fixing all the things that I broke the previous day.

Germany-1
Phil protecting himself against my clumsiness while hard at work

So, what the heck have we been up to since you last heard from us three weeks ago? Well we left Wroclaw in Poland, headed north west and found a great campsite in a forest in a place called Schmockwitz, just to the south east of Berlin. The day after, we once again faced Phil’s fear of public transport to get into the centre of Berlin to visit Bex (my Maid of Dishonour/ partner in crime for the past 10 years). This time we took along Bridget the pooch for moral support and to help us read timetables.

Bridget Jones, the 'brains' of our operation
Bridget Jones, the ‘brains’ of our family (she’s thinking hard in this photo)

We did quite a spectacular job with the public transport seeing as we had to get a bus, a tram and then a train to reach our destination. Bex met us at the station and after much squealing at being reunited (honestly, Phil gets so overexcited sometimes), she showed us around her fabulous apartment, fed us some breakfast booze and introduced us to some of her friends. They included Greek, Aussie and Swedish, some of whom we’ve met before and all of whom are very lovely. Then we were coaxed back onto public transport (this time the U-Bahn, the underground) with the lure of a lovely brunch and Bloody Mary’s.

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With some of Bex’s friends on the U-Bahn platform

Despite Bex being a very arty, cultured type, she knows us well enough to avoid all of that and so we spent the day, evening and night eating, drinking, and catching up on news and gossip in various Berlin bars and restaurants. Bridget came everywhere with us and was very well looked after, especially by Fivos who carried her whenever he could. It was a marvellous and silly night with an obscene amount of shot drinking (will we ever learn?) Somehow Phil and Fivos managed to end the night wearing each others clothes. Phil even drew on a Fivos-esque mustache. You have to give him credit for artistic integrity.

Clothes swapping with Fivos... check out the mustache
Clothes swapping with Fivos… check out the mustache

Somehow, the next morning, we found our way back to our forest campsite to recover (with Phil’s drawn on mustache still in tact) and then we had to hit the road again to get to Stuttgart. Our friend Adam had just had an operation and we wanted to get to him on the day his mum and girlfriend left so that we could be on hand if he needed anything. On the way we were lucky enough to find a campsite about halfway down the 10 hour journey right on a lake in a place called Saalburg. The views really were something else and we both were pretty blown away by the 180 degree stunning views we had. Once it got dark I actually wanted to go to bed early so that I could wake up and open the front curtains just to see that view again.

Our pitch
Our pitch at Kloster in Saalburg. What a view!

It was a shame we couldn’t stay there longer but we were keen to get to Adam and so we used our trusty ACSI campsite app and found a perfect campsite right in Stuttgart city centre. It sounded too good to be true, and of course it was, as we discovered that ‘Wasen’, the Stuttgart version of Oktoberfest, had been built on the exact site we intended to park on. Ooops! We spent a rather hilarious half hour weaving The Beast (the winnebago) in and out of traffic and security barriers and doing 173 point turns to get us out of there and settled on another place in Aichelberg, east of the city.

I have to inform you at this point that this particular day was a Monday, and fans of the now global phenomenon that is ‘Drunk Monday’ will be outraged to learn that we didn’t get our first drink in us til around 6pm. And we were pretty knackered, so although we knocked back a few drinks that evening, it was a fairly tame affair. In fact I actually remember the whole night. I know, I know: we’ve let you down, we’ve let ourselves down, and most of all we let Drunk Monday down.

On the Tuesday morning, we were actually appreciative to be free of the usual Drunk Monday aftermath and so we hopped onto Beauty (our moped) and made the journey to Stuttgart to see Adam. It was the first time that we’d been on a motorway on Beauty and it was a pretty startling experience! We’ve had our fair share of adrenalin rushes, what with skydiving, snowboarding, motor racing, and hanging out with Burnley folk, but riding on a moped on Das Autobahn at 56mph alongside Boy Racers doing 140mph and monster trucks really gets the blood flowing!

When we got to Adam’s place in Stuttgart we were very pleasantly surprised to find that Afroditi, (Adam’s divine Greek girlfriend), was still there as she had extended her stay another week. And more good news was that Adam was up and about and looking fairly well, other than a big gauze on his throat where they’d operated, and a black eye which he suspected either his mother or Afroditi may have given him while he was under anaesthetic and the nurses backs were turned.

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Adam & Bridget – old friends reunited
leder
Is it just me or does he REALLY suit Lederhosen…?!

After a quick game of ‘Scissor, Paper, Rock’ (Phil’s chosen way of deciding the majority of important things in his life) in which he got beaten by Adam, Phil was dressed in Lederhosen (the forfeit) and we made our merry way to Wasen. Adam assured Phil that he’d fit right in with the crowd at Wasen and we (me, Adam & Afroditi) would be the ones who looked out of place. But to be fair, until we actually got to the Wasen sight, Phil definitely looked like a complete plum.

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Meat & beer at Wasen

Wasen, as I already mentioned, is the Stuttgart version of Oktoberfest and consists of a giant funfair and several huge ‘tents’ (which look more like permanent massive wooden beer huts) set up with long wooden tables, huge stages and beer in massive steins. We had to get in there to experience it early enough and then make a run for it before the crowd got lairy as we had wounded Adam to think of. If we’d have been there at night when it’s in full swing he’d have had to spend his time trying to avoid getting giant, drunken German elbows in his neck. But what an experience Wasen is – we watched an oompah band, drank big steins of beer, ate loads of German meat and saw copious amounts of lederhosen. Wunderbar!

More HUGE meat in Stuttgart
More HUGE meat in Stuttgart

The next day, a Wednesday, we went to the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart. Now I have said before that we’re cultural heathens and I’ll stand by that statement, as the only museum we’ve ever been to before together was the Heineken Museum in Amsterdam (oh ok, and the Sex Museum – sorry Mum!)

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The massive Mercedes Museum, Adam’s wounded neck, and my massive mouth

However, Phil has a HUGE love of anything with an engine and especially loves Mercedes.  He was in his element, and to be fair, even though I am not particularly interested in cars, it was a flipping marvellous museum. I highly recommend anyone visiting Stuttgart to pay a visit, even if it’s just to gawp at the cars sellotaped all round the massive walls (ok so they’re probably held on with something more sturdy than sellotape but that’s not the issue here).

The best part for me was those handy audio tour guides so that you can walk up to any exhibition and scan a code, and you get a commentary in English. I quickly figured out that there is a ‘Childrens’ option instead of the standard grown up commentary and this was absolutely perfect for me. Mercedes through the ages, described in dumbed-down terms to help my untechnical brain absorb it. Fantastic!

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The Mercedes Museum audio guide. The ‘For Children’ selection is a winner!

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After the museum we went to look at some of the brand new Mercedes cars in the AMG showroom and because of Adam’s unlimited power in the Mercedes world (!) we got to sit in some ridiculously expensive cars including the new Maybach (Simon Cowell has one) and the S65 AMG Coupe which starts at a cool €280,000 BEFORE you add on your personal choices. As if they let me sit in it! And I didn’t even break it!

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The next morning we persuaded Adam and Afroditi to join us in The Beast for a road trip, and settled on heading towards Strasbourg with the aim of stopping at a vineyard to get squiffy. We did indeed find a gorgeous town with vineyards and a place to park right at the foot of a vineyard, and spent our first night ‘wild-camping’ which is when you just stop where you feel like it and not in a campsite or designated parking area. That night we used our new karaoke microphones that had been sent to Adam’s house and all I can say is I’m very pleased there was no one else within 300m of us, because I’m pretty sure we sounded like we were being slowly strangled.

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Phil murdering a karaoke song. I want that one!
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Walking back to The Beast at the foot of a vineyard with Afroditi

The next day we had full intentions of visiting the vineyard that was literally next to The Beast, but there didn’t seem to be any way to book a tour so we consoled ourselves with several bottles of red from LIDL. Classy to the end.

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Bridget waking to the sight of a vineyard. It’s enough to make you thirsty!

We moved on and managed to get ourselves into Strasbourg centre, and so without even really noticing, we had left Germany and were in France. Strasbourg is not somewhere I’ve heard anything about but oh my, it’s a beautiful city! Some of the streets look like film sets, they’re so unique. Adam and Afroditi headed back home and we moved to a campsite in Molsheim, near Strasbourg and chilled out for the weekend. It was pretty uneventful but glorious just watching the Mad Men series, having a proper Full English breakfast and I even made my first Sunday Roast in The Beast.

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Our first Sunday Roast since we left, washed down with the local Pinot Noir.

It wasn’t a very French weekend, but it was a fattening and lovely one. Good lord, I’ve been waffling so long and this only takes us up to 11th October (11 days ago!) But I have an appointment with some glorious sunshine and a cold glass of Prosecco to get to (current location to be revealed in the next blog) so I’m afraid the Prosecco wins! Til next time folks x

Poland: The Land of Feeders and Vodka Hangovers

We left Poland yesterday after almost three weeks there, and although we’re looking forward to spending time with friends in Germany, we were quite reluctant to leave as we had some truly fantastic and unique experiences.  Plus it’s so flipping cheap to live there it’s not very nice going back to Euros and ‘normal’ prices!

We’d been invited to spend the weekend in a village called Lubowidz in northern Poland, with our friends Mariusz & Ewelina’s families. And we both absolutely agree that we have never known hospitality quite like we had that weekend! Although we didn’t arrive til nearly midnight on Friday, we squeezed The Beast (the winnebago) into Ewelina’s mother’s driveway, and then she served up big plates of cake while Mariusz plied us with an endless supply of beer for the next few hours.

Bridget making herself right at home in Lubowidz
Bridget making herself right at home in Lubowidz

Over the next three days we were treated to huge breakfasts and lunches (honestly they lay out enough food for an army every mealtime) and each time we visited another family member, we’d be greeted with warm hugs and then they would bring out more huge plates of food, along with loads of drink. Everyone welcomed us as if we were long lost family members and despite us not being able to communicate with most of them directly, we felt right at home. Phil learned what he thought was the most vital phrase he would need in Poland – how to say “I love Polish sausage” and then declared it to everyone he met. Perhaps that’s why they were so nice to us; they thought we were a bit simple.

One of the 6000 meals we ate that weekend.
One of the 6000 meals we ate that weekend.

We were invited to Ewelina’s nephew’s 18th birthday party on the Saturday night and arrived with absolutely no idea what a Polish celebration would be like. It’s hard to describe Polish parties in a way that does them justice, but they’re very fast-paced, very noisy, there’s lots of laughing, impromptu singing, energetic dancing (which I LOVED!), lots of toasts – and of course there’s endless food being served, cleared away and then immediately replaced with more food.

With Ewelina & Mariusz at Daniel's 18th party
With Ewelina & Mariusz at Daniel’s 18th party

Being the well-practiced drinkers that we are, Phil and I thought we’d have no trouble at all keeping up with the vodka shots that were downed every few minutes. And for the first few hours we were both well involved with the singing, swaying and dancing. It was brilliant! But then my memory of the night starts to get a little patchy, with the last thing I remember being Ewelina saying to me “we have to go… Phil needs to leave”.

The next thing I know I’m waking up in The Beast on Sunday morning feeling like a family of angry bears were punching me in the head. And by the looks of Phil, his family of bears were even more furious. Neither of us could remember much so we had to get the rest of the story from Mariusz: Phil had disappeared at the party and was found 20 minutes later curled up in the grass on the roadside, saying he felt sick, whilst wearing a big red tie that said “I’m Sexy And I Know It”. It was 10:30pm and Mariusz had to get his sister to come and take us home. The most embarrassing part of it is that almost all the other guests made it to 4am, with some of them partying til 7am. Even Ewelina’s mother made it past midnight! Oh, the shame.

Mariusz's label for Phil
Mariusz’s well-deserved label for Phil

Of course we were made fun of for the rest of the weekend (quite rightly!) and we vowed never to drink vodka shots again. For me this lasted all of 24 hours because on Monday, before we left Lubowidz, we went round to visit several of our new friends. We were given bags of food to take away – homegrown vegetables, meat, eggs… and at 10:30am we were offered our first drink. Of course, we have our ‘Drunk Monday’ tradition to uphold, but as Phil was driving that evening he couldn’t take part.

Therefore, being the excellent wife that I am, I ‘took one for the team’ and was soon drinking shots of homemade liquor, Martini Rosso and then back onto the vodka shots. By the time we left at 6pm, Ewelina’s sister was almost comatose on the sofa and I was, once again, MC Hammered. We set off to take Mariusz and Ewelina to the airport and I passed out immediately. Another successful Drunk Monday!

Drunk Monday in Lubowidz
Drunk Monday with some of our lovely hosts in Lubowidz

The next stop was Lodz (pronounced ‘Wudge’, obviously), where our friends Marta and Mitchell were getting married. My parents had also been invited to the wedding and Marta had arranged for us to park The Beast in the car park of the hotel where everyone was staying and where the reception was being held. They all arrived on Thursday and it was fantastic to have my parents with us, as well as Marta & Mitchell’s families and friends.

On Thursday night, the girls and boys split up and we had a Hen Do & Stag Do in the City Centre. The boys drank heaps of beer, raced rickshaws through the city, drank lots more beer and ate a tonne of red meat – like manly men are supposed to. Us girls went for a lush meal, took an hour long party-limo ride around the city and then drank far too many vodka shots in a nightclub – like good girls are supposed to.

Stag Do in Lodz - 'Lads Lads Lads Lads!'
Stag Do in Lodz – ‘Lads Lads Lads Lads!’

We all ended up back at the hotel bar where I found Phil laughing his socks off. He’d asked Mitchell’s cousin’s boyfriend Sebastian (a tall, rather well built rugby playing South African guy) “if you were an animal, what would you be?” Phil had expected the answer to be a lion, a bear or something equally powerful, but Sebastian had quickly answered “a pigeon!” Poor guy, he wasn’t allowed to forget it for the rest of the weekend, and when everyone kept asking “why did you pick a pigeon?” he could only say “I panicked!”

Marta and Mitchell’s wedding was another example of how bloody brilliant Polish people are at partying. The happy couple looked awesome and once the reception was underway we were told there were a total of FIVE meals, starting at 6pm with the last meal being served around 3am. Crikey. As we were seated, the tables were already completely full of food, and then it just kept coming and coming… hot meat, cold sausages, a BBQ, soups, salads… it was impossible to even make a dent in the food.

The very gorgeous Mr & Mrs Williams
The very gorgeous Mr & Mrs Williams

Because we’d already shamed ourselves at the 18th party the weekend before, Phil and I thought we had learned our lesson and tried to be ‘strategic’ with how many shots we took. However we hadn’t bargained on having Pavel, a friend of Marta’s family, policing us and having absolutely none of us taking sips out of our shots. At one point he was wandering around with a barrel of honey vodka under his arm, a tray of Polish sausage in his hand, force-feeding everyone. I love Pavel. Well I did, until the morning after.

Meal One of Five at the wedding...
Meal One of Five at the wedding…

We actually managed better than we had the previous weekend, with Ma Platt making it to 1am, Pa Platt to 2am, and then we followed shortly afterwards. We didn’t do as well as the Polish of course, but I’ve given up trying to play in their Premier League. And then the next day the remaining food was packed up and we went to an ‘after-party’ which is the norm, and did it all again. It was at this point that my phone had decided it had had enough of me and disappeared into the Polish sunset. I don’t blame it, I am pretty embarrassing company.

We had Monday in Lodz and of course got Ma & Pa Platt well involved in Drunk Monday, wandering around Manufaktura (a huge, blingy place with shops, bars and restaurants), once again being the only drunk people in the city on a Monday afternoon.

Drunk Monday in Lodz with the Platt's
Drunk Monday in Lodz with the Platts

When the wedding guests made their way back to all parts of the globe on Tuesday, we checked my parents out of the hotel and headed to a campsite in Czestechowa, a couple of hours south of Lodz. We spent two days chilling and eating out a lot, each time being unable to help ourselves working out how much it cost in £GBP, and each time being gobsmacked at how cheap it was. For example, we found the highest rated restaurant on Tripadvisor, a beautiful French restaurant, and for 2 starters, 4 main courses including steak and salmon, a bottle of red wine, two large beers and a vodka and tonic, it was £11 a head including tip! And that was on the more expensive end of eating out. Madness.

'Sightseeing' (looking for a pub) in Czestechowa
‘Sightseeing’ (looking for a pub) in Czestechowa

As we sadly said goodbye to my folks at Lodz aiport last Thursday, I noticed another friend, Anna, had posted on Facebook about going to Wroclaw (her home city, pronounced ‘Vrotswaff’, which makes perfect sense…) that Sunday. As we were two hours away from there we thought it would be daft not to go and see her. So we spent a chilled weekend in a campsite on the Olympic park just outside Wroclaw.

I say chilled but we did go into the city centre on Saturday night and partied our pants off. Because we’re idiots and never learn about the dreaded vodka shots, we were already very tipsy when we went into a bar that offered ten different vodka shots for 1 Euro each. So we did the sensible thing and ordered one of each, for both of us. Okay, let’s just do the short version of this story: memory loss, angry bears, another vow to never drink vodka shots again.

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Ten vodka shots, 1 Euro each… let’s do them all! Who cares if we’re already drunk!

After feeling sorry for ourselves all day Sunday we went back to the city to meet up with Anna on Drunk Monday. She had planned to go to the theatre at 7pm but so powerful is the draw of Drunk Monday that she didn’t make it. I like to think that we were entertainment enough, and we had the added benefit of not bursting into song every five minutes like they do at the theatre. We had a blast with Anna seeing some of the sights (ok, I mean the bars) of Wroclaw and it was a perfect end to our time in Poland.

Drunk Monday in Wroclaw with Anna
Drunk Monday in Wroclaw with Anna

And so, after all of the fun we had in Poland we thought it was time to leave. I have left behind my phone, 30,000 braincells and a large piece of my dignity and in return Poland has given me a larger waistline, several vodka hangovers and the useful knowledge that no matter how long we stayed and how hard we tried, we would NEVER be the last people standing at a Polish party.

*Illustration credit to Mia Brown*

Luxemburgers and the first ‘Drunk Monday’

Thirteen days into this trip and we’ve already been in five countries, driven 1531 miles, parked up in seven locations and eaten two packs of our emergency bacon.

Our first stop was Luxembourg, although neither of us can recall why we chose it other than we had to turn left at Calais as we were making our way towards Poland for a wedding. It turned out to be a great place to start; we found the perfect campsite in a town called Alzingen to set up home for four nights so we could ‘decompress’ and celebrate fleeing the real world.

The first campsite we tried actually turned us away because of the size of the winnebago (hey, she’s not called ‘The Beast’ for nothing!) and we’ve since realised that this will be a recurring issue. We thought there’d be a lot of similar-sized motorhomes on the road in Europe but no, we appear to fall into the “You Must Be Joking” category of vehicle and have encountered a lot of head shaking from campsite owners.

However, once we were settled in the second campsite (after a couple of white lies about the actual size and weight of The Beast), we whiled away a couple of days in Alzingen drinking Bofferding beers outside bars, watching Bridget flirt with the locals. We’d planned for a couple of days of chilling to get our heads around the change in lifestyle, but by Sunday we were raring to get busy.

Bridget flirting with the locals
Bridget flirting with the locals

Now, Phil is a demon when it comes to ‘being useful’ and within a few hours he’d fixed the hydraulics on the bike rack, installed two new speakers, fitted a new amplifier, washed the outside, polished the wheels and oiled up the underside of The Beast, and got the satellite TV working. Meanwhile, I made a sandwich. It was an exhausting day all round.

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The Beast in its first campsite in Alzingen, and Phil ‘being useful’

Long before we’d set off on this trip, one of the first things we agreed was to have ‘Drunk Monday’, every Monday where possible. This is simply based on the principle that in ‘real’ life it’s pretty unlikely we would, or could, get drunk on a Monday. So now that we’d be living life on our own terms, we decided that we’d have just two rules on Mondays: never set an alarm, and start drinking as early as we could – at breakfast if possible.

So that first Monday, keen to stick to our word, we both got up when we wanted to (which annoyingly was before 8am), took Bridget for a long walk and then headed to the bus stop to go to Luxembourg for the day.  Now it’s worth mentioning at this point that public transport gives Phil what I call ‘The Fear’. He has no idea how to use it and thinks it’s ridiculous that you can’t be dropped off exactly where you want. So, to ease Phil’s nerves, we had a quick pit stop at the bar across the road from the bus stop.

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The first ‘Drunk Monday’

Two Bofferdings and one uneventful bus trip and we were in Luxembourg. Being the cultural heathens that we are, we hopped straight off the bus and into a bar eight feet away, and settled on finding somewhere on TripAdvisor to get a burger, having agreed that you can’t go to Luxembourg without having a Luxemburger. I know, I know, we’re comedy geniuses.

The Dicksons on tour! Sorry, a joke for all those who watched us wrongly introduced at our own wedding as 'Mr & Mrs Dickson'!
The Dicksons on tour! A joke for those who witnessed us being introduced at our own wedding as ‘Mr & Mrs Dickson’!

As we were fairly tipsy, it took a fair while to find the burger place. Meanwhile we were no doubt stumbling past the famous landmarks, museums and galleries of the city that people usually come to see (I told you, we’re cultural heathens). By the time our Luxemburgers arrived, we were both absolutely trollied. It was 3pm on a Monday and we were clearly the only drunk people in the city.

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A burger pie?! YES!
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Phil tackling the Luxemburgers

After that it all gets a bit hazy. I remember desperately trying to find a crepe and a Baileys for some unknown reason, walking in a circle of the city centre three times, and then god knows how but we got the correct bus back to the campsite, with me falling instantly asleep on the journey (it happens a lot in vehicles – once on the back of a motorbike, but that’s another story).

Once back in Alzingen I strode purposefully into the local shop only to forget what it was I wanted to buy. Because I didn’t want to look weird by walking out empty handed, I instead bought a lemon, a kiwi, a peach and a courgette. Ah yes, much less weird. Let’s just leave it there and conclude that it was a very successful first ‘Drunk Monday’.

We’d arranged to visit our friends Mariusz and Ewelina in their home village of Lubowidz in Poland on Friday 11th, so we shook off our hangovers on Tuesday, set the satnav for Lubowidz and calculated we’d need to drive around 4hrs a day to make it there by Friday. We had the whole of Germany to cross, from east to west, and so off we set and we were soon on the famous Autobahn, merrily cruising at 50mph while an assortment of cars zoomed down the fast lane, all apparently trying to break land speed records.

We stopped the next two nights in different German campsites, with more shaking of heads at the size of The Beast, and it was then we got chance to give ‘Beauty’ her first proper European outing. Beauty is our moped, a Honda PCX 125 that Phil has managed to attach to the back of the winnebago with an ingenious hydraulic bike rack that he’d part-bought, part-constructed himself. Like I said, he’s very useful. In fact in Germany he managed to get it working so well that he can get Beauty onto the rack within two minutes, and off in under one minute, pretty much at the touch of a button. Meanwhile, I made another sandwich.

‘Beauty’

Beauty was named as such because yes, she is a pretty little machine, and she perfectly matches the black and grey colour scheme of the winnebago, but mainly for the very obvious reason that we now have Beauty and The Beast. Whizzing around on her is brilliant; she’s not likely to get us any speeding tickets but she’s oh so easy to ride and park, and so makes popping anywhere we fancy an absolute doddle. We’ve got some fairly ridiculous open-faced helmets that make us look like Wallace from ‘Wallace & Gromit’ but hey, who are we trying to impress?!

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“More cheese, Gromit?”

The 800 mile journey to Lubowidz was pretty easy but there was one rather huge and expensive hitch. We run on LPG, but have a petrol tank as well. We’d let the LPG tank run empty and once we refilled it, it didn’t seem to want to work properly. It would run for about 10 minutes and then just stop, so we kept having to flick back to petrol. Even Phil, with his extensive engine knowledge and sheer determination to never let a machine beat him, couldn’t get the LPG to stay on, so we had to run on petrol pretty much the whole way. This doubled the cost of the fuel for the journey, which over that distance was pretty significant. Ouch!

Phil vs LPG
Phil vs Naughty LPG System

We made it to Lubowidz on time, having had a great drive through the truly beautiful scenery of Germany and Poland – vast expanses of fields and trees, valleys, hills and villages. We may not appreciate culture much, but we sure do appreciate a good view, and so the four day journey was a real pleasure.

It’s a good job it was so pleasant to be honest, as we may well have to sell our kidneys to pay the fuel bill.

A Tale of Two Dickens… “It is the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

Just over a year ago, in Summer 2014, we were a gnat’s whisker away from signing on the dotted line to buy a lovely, big but very old farmhouse in Oxfordshire. If we’d have gone ahead we’d have firmly planted our roots, and it’s likely we’d still be renovating the place now. Mainly because Phil’s ‘renovation plan’ was to buy a digger and just keep… well, digging things.

However, it seems the universe had other plans for us. A set of events turned our world upside down and halted the house purchase. I’ll be honest in saying that at the time we were both pretty devastated, but we very quickly did what we do best and found a bloody great big, sparkly, silver lining to the very dark cloud. We ditched the house idea and made plans to travel.

Fast forward 14 months and the cloud has finally passed, and a whole lot else has happened, including us getting married (twice!) in June. Holy moley, what a five day party that was! In that 14 months we learned to accept the things we can’t change, that if we stick together there is literally nothing that can beat us, and most importantly that Battleshots is a much more fun version of Battleships.

And three days ago, on Thursday 3rd September, we grabbed Bridget Jones (the dog, not the book), jumped into our Winnebago (named ‘The Beast’ by its former owners and ‘The Bagel’ by work colleagues), and drove away from our home, work, friends, family, and Netflix subscription and headed for Dover. Europe was calling.

En route to answer Europe’s call, we went to collect our skydiving rigs from a dropzone in Salisbury, and we soon realised that the snazzy, state-of-the-art satnav that is supposed to ‘specialise in routes for large trucks’ has a snazzy, state-of-the-art sense of humour. Instead of taking us off the motorway and down the A-roads that we knew led us directly there, our new one decided that as a leaving gift it wanted to show us the slimmest countryside roads that Britain has to offer. We got so engulfed in hedges at one point that I saw the colour of a squirrel’s knickers.

Eventually we burst out of the jungle, collected the rigs and it was time for me to have my maiden voyage driving The Beast. Considering I’d never driven the 12m long, 3.5m wide, 12 tonne vehicle on a road before, I managed it without giving Phil any cause to chuck himself out of the window. Bridget, meanwhile, was busy testing every spot she could find in The Beast for sleeping purposes. She concluded that, in fact, EVERYWHERE is good for sleeping, but the dashboard is her favourite.

Our first proper stop was at the highly exotic Dover Tesco Extra car park, because we were 4hrs early for the ferry. So we drew the curtains, bunged a lasagne in the oven, opened some cheese and poured a cold glass of Chenin Blanc. Quite frankly we were the epitome of continental sophistication before we’d even left UK soil.

After a quick kip we boarded the ferry and managed to hide inside The Beast so we could carry on snoozing on the ferry crossing (pretty sure you’re not supposed to stay in your vehicle on crossings but goddamn it, just call us renegades of the sea!) For our crime we were treated to a concerto of car alarms, triggered by the rocking ferry, going off as soon as we set sail. It must have been strangely soothing as all three of us were out for the count in seconds.

Once we were off the ferry we decided to belt it down towards Luxembourg and get as far as we could before the sleep monster bit again. All credit to Phil, he got us more than halfway there before he waved the white flag and we pulled into a truck stop, tucked ourselves in between a couple of big lorries and all three of us passed out, yet again.

Waking without an alarm is bloomin weird! It’s what’s given us our first rush of liberation and made us realise we’ve actually done it. We’ve left our ‘real’ lives and begun our European adventure. It’s going to take some getting used to – living without much structure, but we’re buzzing about it all.

Come what may, we’re absolutely ready for it. Whether Europe is ready for us is an entirely different question…

*illustration credit to the incredibly talented Maria Brown*