Kiri and


Europe – a new chapter

September 5th, 2016 (by Steve)

Just under two years since we departed mainland Europe in Bertha, we were back in France. Not in a motorhome. Not just the two of us. Nope, with our little one and Kiri’s parents, we squeezed into a family hatchback (with a roof box) with our destination set to be a campsite near a little village north of Bordeaux, where we were to meet up with Kiri’s sister’s family too. Turns out it’s quite a long drive from Calais to near St. Gilles

Having nearly been defeated by the headlight deflectors (those things require a degree to be able to understand the instructions!) we realised less than a kilometre out of Calais that we’d left the sippy cup upside down in the wee one’s car seat. Although there was no complaining, we decided that if it were us, we wouldn’t particularly want a bidet experience on a long car journey, so we stopped at the first aire we came to, unpacked the roof box, got a change of clothes and patted down the car seat. Stopping and starting was to be the order of the day and therefore progress was slow, even though we were on toll roads (a luxury that we decided never to waste on Bertha, with her top speed of 90 km/h). It was a novel experience overtaking slower moving vehicles, although a little disheartening to overtake the same vehicle again after another stop for a nappy change or something to munch. It almost would have been easier to travel in a motorhome, with all facilities on board.


We eventually arrived at the campsite and disembarked into a chalet with a construction reminiscent of Bertha (although a little more modern). And there started our beautiful cycle of hearty meals outside – dinner with local wine, breakfasts of fresh bread, pain au chocolat and Schoko Müsli (more on that in a later blog post… when I next find time to write a blog post!), lunches of bread, olives and a fine array of cheeses. I seem to recall that a few other things happened between these mealtimes, but sharing food together was central to this holiday. I can almost still taste the tartiflette, the boeuf bourguignon and the risotto “with curly meat” (as described by my nephew – “prawns” to you and I). Ah yes, there were other things that happened – icecreams! Most were swiftly eaten and rescued before the hot sun plastered them all over our clothes (although in the case of my nephew his clothes got a pretty good deal), but the decadent flavours of tiramisu, coffee and creme brûlée linger in my memory.



So what was this place that we were staying at? Well it wasn’t just a campsite – it’s a place run by Spring Harvest Holidays and their website describes it as “a setting in which you can be refreshed and renewed: spiritually, mentally and physically”. Sounds too much like organised fun? The great thing was that all activities were optional, so we could dip in and out of things as we wanted. For the first time in, well, a long time, Kiri and I were able to get fully immersed in a bible study, knowing that our little one was having a whale of a time with the grandparents. And what an appropriate time and place to be studying Acts 2 – a chapter in the bible in uncertain times where people were looking for a message of hope in a divided land. Soon after we arrived, our screens were bloodied by yet another inevitable and horrific Godless act of terror near Rouen. We joined together as a campsite to pray for France and all other countries affected by these acts. It’s amazing how much a continent can change in just two years – when we were travelling in Bertha, Schengen was still strong, an EU referendum wasn’t even on the cards and terrorist attacks were few and far between. What will the next two years hold for Europe?

Hmmm, I seem to have digressed a little. Where were we? Ah yes. Kiri and I made it along to a few of the organised sessions, but the rest of the mornings I was based in the 0-3 year old group, mainly being chased around a bouncy castle by boisterous 3 year olds, punctuated by occasionally being hit around the face by a spiderman toy. I thought it would be exhausting going on holiday with 3 children under 6 and I was right (“Why do I need to be quiet? Its 7 o’clock”), but it was so much fun too! With 6 adults, we were able to share the load of childcare and catering (although Kiri and I had the lightest load by far in the latter category) and have a lot of fun playing in the chalet and going to pool together. The incredible weather resulted in me trying to find a hat to wear in the pool (oh, the joys of having thinning hair) which I eventually found in the nearest Super-U next to the meat. Obviously. Mais oui… les chapeaux sont à proximité de la viande! And I even had time to read a whole book. Holidaying with family is definitely a win-win.


This was very much a holiday focussed on family time rather than “doing” stuff, or having adventures. But that’s not to say we didn’t have a few adventures – the two younger generations (bar the youngest member of the family) hired canoes and we had an exciting, if slightly uncoordinated, paddle up and down the local river. In my defence it was my first time in a canoe… I think the same could be said about our niece, but she seemed to pick it up faster than me!


We also had a day trip to Noirmoutier in the rain, planning on driving across the causeway on the way back that separates it from the mainland. Sadly, the sea’s timings were a little off (it definitely wasn’t our timings) and as we didn’t fancy the “risque de noyade”, we took the bridge instead.


Evenings were a time to play board games as the sky slowly darkened around us. I blame my increasing level of relaxation for my fall from grace that took me from winner of Carcassonne in the first game to definite loser by the last. My father-in-law has asked that his 3rd place on the final night be noted for posterity. On the two Fridays we were there, we took part in the pub quiz – unfairly robbed in the first one (we blame a miscount) despite acing a round on identifying European countries on a map (methinks we had an unfair advantage following our travels). The second one was better (4th out of 40 teams) and I am not ashamed to say we aced a round on 90s pop music. You can’t beat a bit of Hanson! Kiri and I even managed a date night where we sat in the bar at an open mic night; taking the opportunity to dream together about what our future might hold.


Suddenly our 10 days were up and we were off, back up the toll roads towards Calais. With our motorhome mindset very much alive, we asked our sat-nav for directions to the nearest supermarket petrol station (1.03 per litre rather than the 1.26 available on the motorway!) when we were running low. It was sobering to end up in the very suburb where the priest had been murdered a week previously. A quiet suburb where the supermarket wasn’t open on a Monday. With a ferry to catch and a young child to entertain in the car we didn’t have much time for reflection as we motored on up towards Cite L’Europe, where we had dinner and popped into Carrefour to grab four of our favourite beers from our trip in Bertha (for those of you who were wondering – Kwak, Westmalle Trappist, Chimay Blue and Kasteel Donker).

And then back to our little London flat with an ever growing and developing child. What a great holiday. Same again next year? Who knows what situation we’ll be in by then.

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Bertha vs. Bertha

August 13th, 2014 (by Steve)

The clash of two titans. One has travelled thousands of miles, bringing chaos to transport systems; the talk of the media in the UK despite it being near the end of its journey. The other is, of course, a hurricane. Yes, as we settled down for our last few nights of the trip, we were ready for anything.

Our penultimate destination was the lovely town of Montreuil sur mer. We’re not exactly sure why it’s “sur mer”, as it’s not even near t’ mer, but nevertheless it’s a lovely town. Our aire for the night (two nights in fact) was a gravel car park next to the town petanque club. We thought we might be in for a bit of a noisy night when a van load of boy racers rocked up, skidding around, however they were just there for a civilised game of boules. Lovely really. What was a shock to the system though was the number of British numberplates we saw and British speakers we heard. Maybe it was some kind of gentle introduction back to life in the UK, but it was a bit strange to be able to understand so much of what was going on around us. Whilst the wind did pick up overnight in Montreuil, we’d hunkered down in the shelter of a larger motorhome and slept soundly. So, we think our Bertha won round 1 of the meeting with the other Bertha. It might have been through hiding / cowardice, but that’s still a win!


With mixed feelings we headed up the coast to Calais, for our final overnight stop of the trip. Night 241. That’s a lot of nights… and we couldn’t help but be happy that we would be returning to the UK to some kind of familiarity and normality. But at the same time, this has been our life for the last 9 months… well, longer than that if you count all of the time spent preparing Bertha too. Were we ready to give it up?


We’d heard a few horror stories of aires in Calais not being safe, so we mused on whether we might have an extra story of robbery and intrigue following our stay there. Happily for us, but sadly for the interest of the blog, the only excitement was the return of Bertha (the storm that is). After a night of torrential rain (as our Bertha didn’t leak, we’ll count it as a draw rather than a victory for the other Bertha), we chomped down on a pain au chocolat before heading to the ferry… on which we consumed a croissant each too.


And then we were back on British soil. Accompanied by a “Home” playlist compiled by Kiri (including Billy Joel, Kate Rusby, Green Day, Martyn Joseph, Bright Eyes and of course Lynyrd Skynyrd), we remembered to drive on the left and were home before we knew it.

So that’s that then. 4510 miles covered in the last 4 months to add to the 7368 covered on our first leg.


What next? Well, we’ve put Bertha in for her MOT (our van, not the storm), and now we’re catching up on 4 months of paperwork – tax return here I come!

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Another breakdown (in communication?)

August 10th, 2014 (by Steve)

“I don’t think I could cope if we broke down today”. We’d just topped up with petrol in France; being forced to go with SP98 (the 98 refers to the amount of octane in the fuel), as they had no SP95 which we normally go for. We knew that SP95 E10 (the E refers to ethanol) wouldn’t work in Bertha, but we were fairly sure that we should be fine using SP98. A little doubt remained though as we switched our wipers to full to try to clear the torrential rain from our windscreen. With visibility down to about 50 metres, we slowed right down. Suddenly… BANG.


A bang is never a good sound to hear in Bertha. Especially not when coupled with the oil warning light coming on. Either we’d run over some foreign object, or that was a misfire. Fortunately, by now we’re dab hands at breakdowns (this being the 3rd of the trip), so with hazard warning lights on, we drifted to the side slowly, at which point Bertha’s engine cut out. Good. Something in my subconscious told me we would be better off the motorway and as we were inches before a slip road, I tried to turn the engine back on. Just the standard turning over and a clicking sound… nothing more. It was difficult to see whether it was smoke, steam, or just spray coming from Bertha’s bonnet, but deciding that caution was the best option, we grabbed our coats, hi-viz jackets and warning triangle and bundled out of Bertha.

We needed to call our breakdown company, but without much credit left on our phone (deliberately, as we were only 4 days away from returning to the UK), the first job was to top up. Which we needed to do online. By now the rain had eased to a steady pour and we could see that there was no smoke coming from Bertha, so we hopped back inside (along with several gallons of water), onto the laptop, got online and topped up the phone (getting an extra £2 credit – bonus!) before calling Britannia. They then reminded us of the breakdown rules on French motorways. As we didn’t want the hassle of walking to the SOS box and really didn’t want to disturb the police we tried the ignition again… which fired up immediately with no warning lights. Cautiously we crawled off the motorway and reconstructed our breakdown configuration, whilst I pondered the higher grade fuel we’d used and whether that might be the cause.


When we called Britannia again, the hold music was, ironically, “Happy“. I spoke to a guy called Steve, who said he’d pass on our details to IMA. Shortly afterwards IMA called us and I spoke to a different guy called Steve who told us that a recovery truck would be with us within an hour. So we had lunch; one of the benefits of being in a motorhome when you break down!

When the French mechanics arrived (neither of them called Steve), I explained the situation in broken French (although IMA Steve said that he had told them already). The mechanic then pointed at the non-illuminated oil light and said that we’d have to go to a Peugeot garage. Not good news; we hadn’t had a particularly positive experience with a Peugeot garage in Switzerland. After turning Bertha round, we hopped out of her and watched her being winched onto the back of their truck, giving the fresh water tank a good old scrape on the ground on the way. Accompanied by Queen and the Bee Gees we headed in the direction we’d just come to the Peugeot garage, where Bertha was unceremoniously dumped outside… again, with a good old scrape of the water tank.


At the Peugeot garage reception, our mechanics took charge, explaining that there was a problem with Bertha’s oil and that we should call our breakdown company to get a taxi to a hotel. Ummm… sorry? They then disappeared, leaving us unsure what was going on. Eventually a Peugeot mechanic sauntered over and asked where the oil leak was. It was apparent that we were in the midst of another breakdown – this time in communication. We got the bi-lingual IMA on the phone again to act as translators whilst someone checked the oil level (unsurprisingly, this was fine) then started to fiddle around with the carburetter.

After a couple of minutes during which we heard the word “carburateur” being spelled out on the phone to IMA, the phone was handed back to us and we were alone once more with Bertha. The guy at IMA (sadly, not Steve) then explained that “a line” going into something that he didn’t know the name of (I suggested “carburetter” and he enthusiastically agreed) had been loose and was now fixed.

We’re not really sure why Bertha was carried 15km out of her way just to re-attach “a line” (which, with the help of the guys at we’ve diagnosed as the connection to the idle cut off solenoid), but hey ho, we were on our way once more with the only cost being the tiredness from an emotional rollercoaster (and possibly a little more damage to our fragile fresh water tank)!


Hopefully that will be the last big drama of this trip, but with Bertha’s namesake storm getting ever nearer, who knows?

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Oil’s well that ends well

April 18th, 2014 (by Steve)

167 miles in 4 days versus 592 miles in 4 days. You could say that we’re taking this loop a little more slowly than the previous loop! It’s not gone exactly according to plan thus far, but we’re in Belgium and Bruges is on the horizon for the Easter weekend, so we’re not deviating too far from the plan.

Once we’d overcome the minor hiccup with the fresh water tank cap, our first night was spent in Bray Dunes, just along the coast from Dunkirk. It’s a stunning bit of coastline, which makes it difficult to imagine the atrocities of war amongst the dunes there three quarters of a century ago. Even the wrecks of a few boats that are visible at low tide can’t begin to evoke pictures of the bloodshed there. All we can do is reflect on those who have given their lives and pray for peace in current war zones.


As we were in no rush, after the first evening, we decided that we’d stay there for a second night, so we had a chilled morning (including stocking up on French cheese!) before we decided to go for a wander along the beach together. We were just leaving Bertha, when Kiri spotted a puddle. Under Bertha. A quick dip of the finger into the puddle revealed that it was oil. A quick lie down next to Bertha revealed that it was coming from the drain plug of the sump tank. Not good news.


Abandoning the walk, we researched a local garage and looked up the French for “sump tank drain plug”. Eventually I settled on “bouchon d’huile” as an easier way of describing it and we set off for a garage. It’s amazing how far a few words of French and lots of hand gestures can get you. From what we understood, the mechanic told us we’d need to go to a Peugeot garage to get a new drain plug and we shouldn’t touch the plug ourselves, as all of the oil would drain out (his hand signals for this part were especially pleasing). The Peugeot garage didn’t want to know and they fobbed us off on the Renault garage next door. Here we had a lovely welcome and once again, although they didn’t speak any English, we managed to communicate pretty well. Del Boy would have been proud of my French language skills. We were to come back in the morning, when they would do a “vidange” and re-seal the plug… for just over 100 Euros.

As we arrived back at the aire, we were greeted by Jeff; a very friendly Brit in his late 70s. We explained our predicament and he made it his personal mission to help us avoid spending that much money to get the problem fixed. After a good hour of trying with various tools and bodges, we couldn’t get the current drain plug off (we’d even modified a water container to catch the oil), so conceded defeat. At this, Jeff gave us a bottle of wine, despite our protestations that we should be the ones giving wine to him in thanks!

The following morning came and we dropped Bertha off at the Renault garage and went into the nearby town to have a pain au chocolat (we understand that’s part of the protocol in France when your vehicle is being fixed!). At 12 we returned to be reunited with Bertha, who had a new washer on her drain plug and lashings of sealant too. No danger of further leaks there, and the work done for 20 Euros fewer than quoted. Bargain.


From there it was a short drive into Belgium. Unfortunately I’ve not been too well for the last few days, so we’re having a couple of days of rest on another free aire before we explore Bruges. We’re loving the slower pace of travelling this time though and feel no pressure to rush… I’ve managed to read a whole novel already. This is the life!

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KIST 2EU… this time it’s personal

April 15th, 2014 (by Steve)

This is it; we’re off again! Well, to be more precise, we’ve gone. Scarpered. We are no longer in the UK! It’s great to be back on the road and we’re looking forward to settling into our travelling rhythm once again.

This time we feel a little less daunted by the journey ahead; we’re more familiar with the whole travelling thing and we know (to a certain extent) what might face us in the next few months as we travel through northern Europe. Because of this, we’ve stocked up with all of the essentials that we’ll struggle to find on the road… 160 Clipper tea bags, a few tins of baked beans, some English mustard, peanut butter and wholewheat pasta (truly British!). With this arsenal, we can face anything (within reason). It’s also through experience that we know to caveat broad statements like that – we’re sure to face the unexpected.


In fact, we faced the unexpected sooner than we thought we might. We arrived at Dover this morning in good time and decided to turn on the gas and make a cup of tea. Where was the key to the gas locker though? We thought back to when we knew we had it last. We weren’t on the ferry yet, but we had a sinking feeling. The key had last been spotted (along with the key to the fresh water and toilet) in the fresh water cap when we had filled up at home. I rushed round to the fresh water filling point. No cap anywhere to be seen… just a gaping hole, pleading for more water. We’d seen several lambs on our journey, but none looked as sheepish (sorry, I know it’s a terrible pun) as Kiri did now. From the girl who brought you “how to stand on a bumper”, comes “how to forget to replace the fresh water cap”. Doh. So, we had no cap for our fresh water tank, and the keys for the gas locker and toilet were probably keeping the cap company somewhere.

Fortunately we had spare keys for the gas locker and toilet, but that didn’t solve the problem of the fresh water tank. Clingfilm provided a temporary solution whilst we searched online for a camping shop in Calais. Once on the ferry, we received confirmation from Britain that our fresh water tank cap and associated keys had been located, but looking a little worse for wear. We had made the right choice in not turning back for home and soon the friendly folk at Calais Caravanes were lining our palms with a brand new cap. Sorted.


So we’ve started as we mean to go on! In all honesty though, it was just a minor hiccup and it’s good to be back in Bertha with an adventure in northern Europe ahead of us.

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January 23rd, 2014 (by Steve)

Carcassonne. What a great game. Almost as good as Settlers. Maybe? Well, this was also the last place in southern France that we wanted to visit before hitting Spain. Rather than going straight there from the Verdon Gorge, we decided to amble around the coast, spending a night in Arles, then a windy night next to a beach. We’d not planned to stop there overnight, but when we pulled up for lunch, we decided that as it was such a nice spot, we’d stay for longer.


Before we get on to talking about Carcassonne, we’ve got to mention flamingoes. We hadn’t really expected to see flamingoes on the trip, so when we first spotted them, Kiri got a little excited. Actually, that’s probably an understatement. Kiri got VERY excited. You’ll have to wait until the video of this part of the trip to fully appreciate the excitement level (if it makes the final cut!), but I would go as far as to say it was significant excitement (and from my days as a data analyst, I don’t use the word “significant” lightly!). Sadly there was nowhere near any of the flamingoes to stop Bertha and take photos, so this the best shot(!) taken as Bertha sped(!) past them.

Moving snapshot of a flamingo near Montpellier as we sped past

So, Carcassonne. A great fortified medieval city. A cracking board game. A cracking book (Labyrinth by Kate Mosse). A cracking visit? Well, in some ways, yes, but in some ways, no. As a place, it is stunning and well worth a visit. If you’re into your history of knights and castles it’s fascinating to wander around the walls and get a feel for how protected it is. Sadly though, the myriad shops and restaurants inside the city don’t feel as if they’ve been set up sensitively. You expect a little bit of tourist tat in any place like that, but it seemed to be choking the soul of the city. I’m sure that it’s not necessary to have 3 museums of torture within a tiny city like that. So whilst it was worth a visit, it didn’t really float our boat (and not just because the moat has no water in any more).


The following morning, we set off before breakfast, as we would have to pay extra for the car park we’d stayed in overnight if we had left after 8am. As it was, the barrier was up (unexpected bonus!), so we didn’t even have to pay for the previous day in the car park either. After breakfast on the road, we headed for a little village a short drive away, as we’d read that there was a motorhome stop there with good facilities, including free electric hookup. As it turned out, none of the facilities were operational, but we decided to stay anyway and have a chilled day. We’re glad we did, as we saw our first British motorhome of the trip (imagine that; our 83rd day in mainland Europe, and our first British motorhome). We exchanged a polite “hello” with the owners, talked a little about the weather, then wished each other safe travelling. How very British.

And then on the road towards Spain. We emptied our toilet in the next village along in some public loos (we think we were allowed to…?) and set off towards the Pyrenees. Au Revoir France!

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Revelation on the Riviera

January 20th, 2014 (by Steve)

When one imagines the Italian Riviera, it’s a picture of sun, sea, boats and lots of people in lycra on bikes. Well, that’s a pretty accurate picture, but maybe with a little more rain in January! We did have a couple of glorious days as well as the rain though.


As we travelled along the coast, we had been told that if we were passing near to San Remo, we had to visit Bussana Vecchia. Some of the time, we do what we’ve been told, so we stopped for the night by a marina in Arma di Taggia then the following morning we drove to Bussana Nuovo (“new” Bussana) and parked Bertha. Our destination was a village that had been ruined in an earthquake in the late 19th century and subsequently abandoned. Then, in the 1960s a group of hippies moved in and started creating art there. Their legacy is an exciting half-ruined village filled with artists, which is best reached on foot.


Bussana Vecchia was right up our street; especially as it was so quiet (we imagine it’s busier in the summer). We enjoyed exploring the alleyways and thinking about how great it was that something that was once seen as worthless was now a place of beauty once more. As it was so small though, we did feel as if we were intruding, so we were almost ready to leave when we arrived at Ronald’s place. Now Julien + Anais had told us that we had to go to Ronald’s place (the only house in the village with a windsurf outside!). We summoned courage and wandered into the garden, where we met a British guy called Roger, a Swiss guy called Max, a dog called Bea and a goat with an identity crisis (she thought she was a dog too). The few hours that followed were some of the best of the trip so far.


Roger + Max explained some of the history behind Ronald’s place; how the vision was to set up a place where artists could come and live for free; sharing all resources and working together. We were invited to join them and stay with them for a while; if it hadn’t been for the fact there was nowhere to leave Bertha and our time constraints, we might well have. It was just such an inviting and exciting model of community. After sharing coffee, having a look round and showing Pablo (another resident artist) how to set up a playlist of Lou Reed songs on the computer(!) we headed to Roger’s house/studio down the hill.


It was great to share time with Roger; getting a measure of what makes him tick and seeing the passion when he talked about his ways of working. Often when you see art in a gallery, it can seem a little sterile, whereas we were seeing pieces that he was working on in their natural environment. It’s not often that you’re asked by an artist for your opinion on whether a piece is complete… that’s a very deep question with any art! We learned a lot from Roger, and I think that Kiri particularly got a lot from that meeting… and in fact the whole time in Bussana Vecchia. She had a revelation that I’m sure will not come as a surprise to anyone who knows her; she’s born to paint.

From there we floated to the border on petrol fumes, as French petrol is sooo much cheaper, before heading towards the Verdon Gorge; Europe’s response to the Grand Canyon. We took half a day to just pootle around the southern lip of the gorge; stopping at every opportunity to breathe in the natural beauty. It was a gorgeous (sorry) day; if it hadn’t been a little on the chilly side, you could have mistaken it for summer and the place was deserted. Aside from Bertha being hit by a fallen rock (it’s ok, she’s fine, but it’s a reminder that those warning signs are there for a reason!), it was a perfect day.


And so from here we move south; a few more days of France, then we’ll be in sunny Spain.

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Climbing every mountain

December 8th, 2013 (by Steve)

The second of our films about the trip is now available on YouTube

Climb every mountain

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To toll or not to toll…

November 24th, 2013 (by Steve)

Roads. They’re all the same. They’re all equal. You drive on them to get from A to B. Sometimes on the right. Sometimes on the left (not so much over here on mainland Europe). But maybe all roads aren’t equal… maybe some are “more equal than others”?

The trusty map that’s helping us find our way through Europe has a lovely way of marking toll roads as pink… maybe it’s to try to soften the blow of them? France has plenty of pink roads… as does Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia… basically all of the countries that we’ve been through so far.


What’s interesting is the variety of methods of taking the tolls:

  • Fixed period vignette – these are little stickers that you fix to your windscreen and they last for a certain length of time (in Switzerland it’s a calendar year, in Austria the shortest we could buy was for 10 days and in Slovenia the shortest period was a week)
  • Toll booth with payment – this is the standard one that we’re used to in England; the same kind of thing as the Dartford Bridge or the Severn crossing into Wales. We experienced this with Austrian tunnels… we thought it a bit cheeky to be taxed with both a vignette for general motorway usage, then tolls for specific tunnels!
  • Ticket and resulting toll booth – when you join the motorway, you take a little ticket, then when you leave the motorway, you put your ticket back into a machine (or give it to a person) and you’re charged for the distance travelled. We experienced this in Croatia and Serbia and this seems like the fairest method of them all.

When we set off on this adventure, we were determined to avoid tolls wherever possible, but from our little collection of vignettes, you can see that it hasn’t worked out quite as planned:


Actually, in France, avoiding tolls worked nicely for us; the route nationale roads are well surfaced and aside from taking you through the centre of little villages, they’re pretty fast. Switzerland was more of an issue for us; if we wanted to avoid tolls, we would have had to do lots of ups and downs. Big ups and downs. As it was, even with travelling on the toll roads, we had to do several large ups and downs, struggling to keep above the minimum speed limit on the motorways. Austria was a similar story with either toll routes through mountain tunnels and across the valleys on bridges, or non toll roads with ups and downs. We chose the tolls!

By the time we got to Slovenia, we had seen our first bit of snow and, wishing to avoid further snow, we opted for the fastest route… which involved taking toll roads. Then with Croatia, we had issues finding places to stop overnight that were close to each other, so we had to travel long distances in a relatively short period of time. Best option? Tolls.

So, are these tolls taking their toll? Did I actually make that awful pun? Maybe. Without retracing our route but missing out toll roads, it would be hard to calculate how much fuel we’ve saved by taking the direct route and avoiding long hill climbs. So far tolls have cost us roughly £116 … that’s a good couple of tanks of fuel. Is it worth taking toll roads? We think for now it probably is… but that might change once we’re on flatter ground once again and not running away from something!

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B-right side of the road

November 4th, 2013 (by Steve)

We’re on the road. We’re actually on the road. In Bertha. What a change of lifestyle it’s been as well; we’re only just beginning to settle into a routine and get our heads around how to travel, cook, eat, sleep and live in a 5.6 by 2.5 metre space. We’re rising to the challenge though and now have a daily routine of getting up, mopping up the condensation (our biggest enemy on the road!), getting dressed, brushing teeth, airing our bedclothes, having breakfast, reading our bibles, doing the washing up, then stowing things away and switching things off ready to drive. Oh, and checking the coolant level!

View from Bertha

So, where are we, and where have we been so far? You may have been following our timeline, from which you will have gathered that we pretty much sped through France (sticking to the speed limit naturellement… as if Bertha could speed!) and are now in Switzerland. We’ve had some absolutely stunning driving days with amazing sunshine and although we’ve basically been staying in car parks that allow motorhomes to stop overnight (to keep costs down!), the views when driving have made up for it. Neither of us have driven a right hand drive car on the right hand side of the road before, let alone a beast like Bertha, but it’s surprisingly intuitive and already it’s feeling natural for us both.


As we’ll be going back through France a few times on this trip, our aim was to get the kilometres under our wheels as efficiently as possible and head south and east before the cold weather sets in. For this reason, we spent most of the days in France just travelling (as well as adjusting to full time life on the road); not stopping to take in the sights. We did make sure that we bought a baguette, some onions and some cheese though!

Very french

Switzerland has been an altogether different ball game. Yes, we’re still aware that the snow could come at any point, and we’ve had a couple of cold nights to suggest it’s imminent, but we’ve spent time taking it all in. We had an amazing day next to Lake Geneva on Saturday, wandering around the autumnal vineyards before a bread and cheese lunch with an incredible view of the lake.

By Lake Geneva

Yesterday we worshipped at a church in Grandcour and were overwhelmed by the welcome they extended to us. We were a bit nervous about going to a random church in a small village and especially worried about the language barrier. As we got out of Bertha, we said “bonjour” to the first person we saw, to which she replied “Are you British?”. It turned out that she and her family were also British and have lived in Switzerland for 12 years. Not only did we then, very kindly, have a personal translation from French of a tricky passage (anyone fancy translating Revelation?), but we were also invited back to their house for lunch with them and some other friends from the church. We were really bowled over by such warm and inspiring hospitality; they even offered to wash our clothes for us (we hope it wasn’t because we smell!).

Lunch with lovely people

And how’s Bertha holding up? Well, she’s stayed dry so far. The waterproof mattress protector has made the world of difference on our bed over the cab. She’s also bravely chugged up some pretty long and steep hills; our highest altitude has been over 1000 metres so far. However, there have been a few suspect smells when she’s been climbing the hills, which we think may be signs that her clutch may be on the way out – we’ve got some investigating to do today!

If you’d like to know more details about our individual overnight stays or where we’ve topped up with fuel, we’ve also got a map of our route that we’re keeping up to date. For more photos, check out our KIST 2EU gallery

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