As the sun was setting on our 3 ½ year stay, living and working in the UK (London and Edinburgh), it was with great excitement our thoughts turned to the 90 days we had in front of us – what was to be our most life-changing trip through a European summer.
Not twelve months earlier, Renee and I had our first ‘Wicked Van’ experience with a 5-day excursion in Northern Ireland. We had of course heard of Wicked Vans as they were a common sighting along our home Eastern coast of Australia, but had yet to cocoon ourselves in one. The idea of camper-van living has always appealed to us and after making a few inquiries with the most helpful Julie, our Northern Ireland trip was booked.
I can think of no better way to experience a new country than having your home on wheels and our ‘Jellybean’ painted Wicked Van did not disappoint. Everything we needed within arms reach (literally!) and once we acclimatised to the cabin fever; our home away from home became a magic part of a wonderful stay. At 30-something years of age, this was both our first time ‘camper-vanning’ and was a taste of things to come.
Working fulltime for the previous 3 and a bit years in the UK put a slight dampener on our original plans of a 2 year ‘working holiday’ where we expected to do quite a bit more travel then we had. We had had a number of trips to various parts of the world but no longer term stints, which was now high on our priority list. Our many friends who had been on Van Tour all had almost unbelievable stories to share on their time on ‘the tour’ so we decided to use this as the Launchpad to return home. One final dig you could say.
Obviously, after the great experience in the Wicked Van through Ireland the previous year we had no hesitation in booking the van again and got the ‘early bird’ deal. As was always the case, Julie (sorry Julie, your surname escapes me but I think you’re based in Scotland?) was very thorough and professional in managing the booking and follow up info sharing, which made the process a breeze. Renee and I grabbed a massive map of Europe, stuck it on the wall and began pencilling out our planned trip.
Three little tips here: 1/ worth getting a map with the English spelling of EU cities otherwise gets a bit confusing (e.g. who knew ‘Wien’ is Vienna and ‘Firenze’ is Florence?!) , 2/ You can be guaranteed your plans will change so don’t be too rigid & 3/ Europe is a lot bloody bigger than I thought J so don’t try and bite off the whole thing for a 90 day trip unless there’s a heap of you in a bus to share long driving trips.
The prep work was done. We packed up the flat in Edinburgh, sent our stuff home to Oz, quit the jobs and were now ready for the crazy, awesome, spiritual, liver-damaging trip that was Wicked Van Tour 2011!
Before I launch into a snapshot of the trip highlights, time for a few more tips:
- ICE – As a couple of Queenslanders, we are more than used to hot summers but we’re also used to having plenty of ice readily available to cool the beer/food etc. Real eye opener that many EU countries, particularly the stinking hot ones (i.e. Italy, Croatia, France and many others) just don’t seem to use the stuff. Real pain in the arse so learn the local word for ice and think of ways to get it. Fishmongers proved useful and some camp grounds let you freeze water.
- Mozzies – The little bastards got thick in some places (Croatia was our worst experience although expect anywhere. When it’s hot in your van (which you will be) and with no fly screens, this becomes a real problem. Either get so pissed you don’t notice or have a battle plan before you go
- Free-camping – real money saver and the best parts of our trip were outside of campgrounds. Depends what you like of course as the campgrounds during the EU summer are one massive, bloody brilliant party! If free-camping, always better with another van for extra security. Don’t leave your van if doing this – Bratislavian pricks
- Food/supplies – Lidl defo the go
- Eat well – Try to stay fairly healthy and not swap too many meals for beer (have both) as 3 months of hard-core partying does wreck you
- Budget – Pretty tricky to pin point but could basically say you can’t operate on much less than 50-60 quid per person per day. This includes fuel and half the time camping fees and is still pretty frugal. Those of you who have extravagant tastes need 70-80 quid a day and those who are happy to live on vege sandwiches the whole time, 30-40. Fuel and partying the main costs and site-seeing (especially in cities) gets expensive because those Euros are waiting for us! Good idea is to split out the fuel costs and budget separately.
- ‘Decathalon’ outdoor store is your friend – gas cans at decent price.
- Pack a small tent!! – refer to note on mozzies and heat
Ok, the only place to start is the start…
London pick up went smoothly, get a congestion pass for the day when doing this to avoid 60 quid fine. We booked a ferry from Dover to Calais which was cool but you have many options.
Basically our plans were to hug the coast as much as possible around EU, going anti-clockwise. Paris and surrounds brilliant. Stay outside the city and travel in as this keeps costs down. Spend some time here before Pamplona. Hug the French coast if you have time before the ‘Bulls’ – you won’t regret it. For the surfers – I scored 3-4ft offshore Hossegor – stuff dreams are made of! Don’t miss Biarritz.
Pamplona – Just magic! Do stay at Zarautz – this is singly the most beautiful campground I’ve ever seen. Mad party for 3-5 days. Don’t NOT run with the bulls as they are about to pull the pin on this and you will regret it for life. Listen to the local rules at all costs and party hard. Good idea to make a few friends here that you can convoy with later etc.
Spend some time in Portugal before you hit Lagos – wonderful people and country generally. Surf pumps but windy as hell at this time of year.
Lagos – Farkin Hell. All I’ll say is I wish I could remember more as this was one of the best 4 (or 5?) days of partying ever! Do try and get to the beach at some point as it’s bloody glorious. The water’s a bit cold at this time of year but worth a dip for recovery purposes.
Seville and Southern Spain – Cracking place site-seeing. Bit hard to find a place to camp as there is nothing in Seville city (don’t even bother) – camp ground about 20kms SW.
Terifa as a magic place and parties hard. Perfect Launchpad for Morocco if you’re heading there as you can almost lob a rock from here. We had been to Spain quite a few times before this and it remains one of our favourite places in the world. So many reasons why, so spend as much time as you can here and you’ll see why. Many people by-pass Madrid – this is a mistake. Hug the coast otherwise and enjoy. Barcelona is everything you’ve heard and if you’re in there for Tapas – you simply cannot beat ‘Sinatra’s’
Southern France – Again simply brilliant. Great people (possibly better than the northerners). If you’re looking for a mountain get-away, the Seven Mountain range goes down as our best free-camping memory (but we’re kinda hippies at heart). Riviera is cool but expensive – we drove through and admired.
Italy – This was the country I was most looking forward to for the culture, food and wine. Even tried to learn the language for 12 months before going, which I certainly don’t regret. People were a little disappointing but you take the good with the bad. Unforgettable cultural experience obviously. Genova worth some time, Florence just awesome and Rome is what it is (Camping Tigra the go). Naples is dodgy but wonderful. The South is well worth the drive as everything gets better again. The Italians flock to the beach so don’t expect a quiet time there.
Croatia – Just brilliant, go there! Sailing a good option but the land based stuff is just as fun. Amazing inland national parks you won’t see anywhere else! Hot as hell though. Visit the capital, Zagreb as it is a must see and often gets missed.
Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Switzerland - Get off the beaten track and get lost. Just unreal! Beware of the taxes on highway – buy these.
Slovenia – Was one of the hidden gems. Learn and explore this place – especially if you’re a bit ‘green’
Germany and Beerfest – Awesome people, great country and massive party. Beerfest is everything you’ve imagined and better. The ‘100 Club’ is quite simply the most disgusting and brilliant thing I’ve ever seen (and I’ve been around the block a few times). Not for the faint-hearted but an Aussie/Kiwi tradition well worth a look. You’ll by now have all the tips in Beerfest so follow the crowd. Make sure you head to the Monastery before though.
Amsterdam – Probably the only place in the world I’d live outside of Australia. Spend as much time as you can here.
Summary: I’ve condensed a story that I’ll be telling for the rest of my life only because it would become boring and endless unless you’ve been. As young people, Van Tour with Wicked is simply one of the, if not the best experiences you’ll have in your life. Dive head first into everything (except shallow water) and embrace the cultures of all countries. There’ll be plenty of piss-ups, sex, fights, break-ups and make-ups and you will make new friends for life. This has been a tradition for Aussies and Kiwis for over 50 years now so I expect you will be telling your grandkids about it.
Be responsible for yourselves and look after others. We’re starting to get a bad wrap in Europe nowadays as the minority behave like mongrels. Don’t add to this. Both countries are far too proud to give us this type of profile overseas.
Best of luck, be safe, and get ready for the ride and thank you Wicked for providing the wheels and the roof. – Craig, 33
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