We booked some one way tickets to London in the start of April 2011, without a time frame or a clue as to what we were going to do when we got there. All we knew is we wanted to see as much of the UK and Europe as we could. We looked into rail passes, multiple flight tickets, tour groups and couldn’t find anything that suited our budget, that would last as long as the Wicked Van Tour. Our mate back home had been harping on about it since he got back from VT 2010, and all his stories and photos looked awesome. So after comparing all the different ways of travelling around Europe, we decided a Wicked Camper was the go.
With nearly two months until ‘Van Tour’ officially started and having been in London for two or so weeks already, we thought to ourselves, what are we going to do? Work in a London pub? Nahhh, lets go see the UK. We wanted to spend our 90days of Van Tour outside the UK, so we thought bugger it, we’ll get another Wicked Camper and go and see England, Ireland Scotland and Wales. Plus this would give us a bit of a warm up to life in a van for 3 months!
It had only been a little over a week since we finished off our own little 42day wicked Van Tour of the UK and Ireland in “Hip Hop.” We had a ball just doing our own thing, following the coast of England from Brighton to Cornwall, then up into Wales, over to Scotland, across to Ireland for a week and then back through the highlands of Scotland and finally back into London.
We picked up our new van “Clowns.” We didn’t want to race over to France, because we knew there was a few things we wanted to pick up which was still in the UK, (like Butane gas bottles for the cookers! £1 each in England, if you can even find them in Europe you’ll probably pay about 7 Euros each!) so we made our way down to Dover and went for a look around the Dover Castle which was a great experience. We stayed the night in Dover and it was good not to rush, as we would realise later, because the next 3 months were going to be pretty well non-stop.
It would take nearly 3 months to write about everything we experienced in our 90 days in Clowns, and even then it wouldn’t come close to being an accurate description. These are just some of our highlights, tips… basically do’s and don’ts for doing Europe in a van.
Do – The Eiffel Tower, of course? It’s a must. We decided we wanted to brave the queues and line up to go up the Eiffel Tower. It was definitely worth it because although we thought we would be up the top looking out over Paris in the late arvo, it turned out we were up there for sunset due to the long ass wait, but that was pretty cool.
Do – Buy baguettes, and pastries. They rock.
Do – (you wont have much of a choice in the van) drive through the billions of sunflower fields. They are quite spectacular.
Don’t – Park in a dodge car park behind an old motor cross track with an extended family of gypsies and their kids.
Beware of Gypsies in France they are everywhere.
Do – Running with the bulls! You have to. It’s Van Tour!
Do – the opening ceremony of the running of the bulls. It is unreal. The Spanish know how to party.
Don’t – Park near a mosquito infested lake behind a petrol station when its 40 degrees in the middle of the night and you cant open the windows because of mozzies.
Do – let 2 strange blokes in Barcelona who sound like Borat lead you upstairs into there bizarre upstairs pub. It was the most random mix of people inside but it made for an awesome night.
Do – Play ‘Spotto Hooker’. When driving on just about any road. Random plastic chairs and umbrellas are good warning for when ones coming up. I am the official spotto hooker champion.
Do – Drink Port in Porto. Go to all the… Porteries? What ever the port equivalent to a winery is (I think its still a winery), they are everywhere. I don’t like port at home, I didn’t like it there, but I did enjoy drinking it in Porto.
Do – go to Evora, weird town, cool church made of human bones.
ABSOLUTLEY Do – Go to Lagos, it is a party town.
When in Lagos
Do – Stay at Campo Da Trinidade. It is by far not the best camp-site in Europe… but throw in another 10 or so Vans full of Kiwi and Aussie Van Tourers. The place gets pretty bloody good.
Do – Do the ‘Hour of Power’. 12 euro gets you all you can drink for an hour, and a pretty decent feed. (you have to push the plates to the middle of the table until the end of the power hour or you waste drinking time)
Do – Aquire a rugby ball and play a drunken game of Aus Vs NZ touch in the middle of the town
Do – Chill out for hours on the epic yellow sand beaches
Don’t – opt for the ‘pay road toll at the bank’ option when your visa card wont work and Portuguese toll booth willy wont let you get cash from the back of the van. Because you cannot pay the toll at the bank. You will get abused by a non-english speaking bank manager, interrogated by a non-english speaking police man, and then finally after an intense few hours, sent to the post office to pay the toll.
Do – Eat as much pizza as you possible can, everywhere you can, the pizzas are good.
Do – Ridiculous poses in front of the leaning tower of Pisa.
Do – Take a photo of everybody else doing ridiculous poses without the tower in the back ground
Do – Eat gelatto, again as much as you can
Do – Rome in the day and the night.
Do – Stay and Camping Tiber Roma. Awesome camp ground with a pool, bar and restaurant and really good access into Rome. They have a shuttle bus that takes you to and from the traino. And I can guarantee you will have a few massive nights at that little bar.
Do – get a photo with the traditional Roman gladiator with an Indian accent
Do – Florence and Sienna. There not like anywhere else in Italy.
Do – walk the 5 teres, with beer and pizza in every town, its not a stroll, in fact most of it is a hike.
Don’t – (even though you will and kind of have to) drive on any road at any time. The drivers are actually crazy
Do – The Amalfi coast, BUT! Make sure you have fuel, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I probably should because I was pretty sure we were going to break down.
Don’t – Drive up Mt Vesuvias looking for Pompeii… we had no idea
Do – Austria. As much of it as you can. We didn’t really have any expectations of Austria. We knew nothing about it. Turned out to be my favourite country.
Do – the Hohe National Park. 25 degrees and sunny, in boardies and a tshirt down the bottom, 3000m up, 5 degrees and covered in snow. Still in boardies and a t-shirt.
Do – Check out the rail taboggans they set up on some of the ski slopes in the summer, there a lot of fun.
Don’t – Miss it. Austria is a cool place, it definitely has its own style.
Do – Have beers everywhere, they’re cheap and actually pretty good.
Do – Go to Budapest, that’s a different place. Lot of cool stuff.
Do – Buy meals out. Like the beer, cheap and pretty good.
Do – Auschwitz. Its why we went to Poland. It’s sad, confronting, but its real. It’s an amazing experience.
Do – Explore a little more. We didn’t spend long at all in Poland, which was a shame.
Do – Buy beer there, it’s even cheaper than Hungary
Do – Visit Bratislava, its where supermodels all meet up to be hot together.
Do – Spend most of your time in Prague. Prague rocks. Seems to be one of the few major cities that is still ‘real’. Walking around the main square you feel like you could be in any era. Stuff’s cheap, even for a touristy city.
Do – Visit the Kilson Ossuary, another church decorated with human bones. This one’s a little more spectacular than the one in Portugal.
Do – Drive to Edam to buy cheese. It is so worth it.
Do – go to Amsterdam
Do – visit a coffee shop
Do – walk the red-light district
Do – hire a bike and cruise around
Do – spend all your Euro coins in a hot wall, try one of everything and 4 of the deep fried cheese pillows.
Don’t – listen to what some people say about the Dutch. Some of the nicest and most helpful people we met in our travels were Dutch.
Do – ask a Dutch person to quote lines from Austin Powers Goldmember.
Do – ask a Dutch person what Holland is and why it has 2 names.
Do – Visit all the chocolate shops in Brussels and try something different at each.
Do – Try some Belgium beers
Don’t – Go from pub to chocolate shop to pub to chocolate shop. It’s not going to work out well.
Do – Double your budget for the time you spend in Switzerland
Do – Buy a Swiss Army Knife
Don’t – Nearly cut the end of your finger off playing with your new Swiss army knife
Do – Take a photo with a giant Toblerone and then buy the small one
Do – Buy some traditional meringues
Do – Read those road signs that don’t actually exist that tell you your entering a major construction site.
Do – Eat a lot of sausages
Do – try every kind of sausage available
Do – Go to Oktoberfest!
Do – try and keep track of how many steins you have had by marking you arm
Do – dance on the tables
Do – get to the camp-site early because trying to sleep in in the jam packed car park outside the camp-site isn’t much fun when you are as hung over as you will be.
Do – Try and spend a day at Oktoberfest on the rides and eating the food without getting absolutely smashed. It would be hard, we didn’t manage.
Don’t – get over excited and smash your stein glass, cutting your finger and getting taken by a beer wench for medical attention.
General Do’s and Don’ts
Do – Take a Lonely Planet book. Don’t listen when people tell you it’s cheating. It’s not. And if you do take one, don’t be scared of going to places it doesn’t talk about, some aren’t in the book for a reason… but some should be!
Do – Take a camera, take photos of everything, old buildings, random streets, statues, street signs that make no sense, car parks you slept in, entire families with matching T-Shirts, what ever just take a ridiculous amount, it all ads to the memories. We have thousands and there still isn’t enough.
Do – read the little hand book Wicked Campers supply you with before you leave England. There are some good tips in there.
Do – Have a rough plan/route/ time-frame. Don’t be anal about it. It will change. But its good to have something to go by. You wouldn’t want to run out of time at the end.
Do – Park at Maccas for free Wifi, they love it!
Don’t – Be scared to chat to randoms even if they look boring or if they are a family with kids, especially at campsites. The most interesting people we met were people you wouldn’t expect.
Do – Remember when you in the van and you’re either, lost, hungry, hot, uncomfortable, smelly, sick of driving, or just wishing to be out of it. The worst times in that van are better than just about any day at work. The feeling of getting into a real bed for a good sleep after 3 months in the van is pretty amazing but the freedom, the carefree attitude, the fun, the adventure is all gone and man do we miss it!
We spent the best 7 months of our life away and 4 and a half of those were in a Wicked Camper, 3 in Europe and a month and a half in the UK, just doing our own thing. If I was going to do it again (and I’d love to) it’d definitely be Van Tour.
For further information on renting your own Wicked Camper visit www.wickedcampers.co.uk.