About three months into our trip, Adam floated the idea that we could do one of those motorhome relocation deals. This is where you pick up a motorhome from a designated location and drop it off at the company office all for a discounted price. The catch is that you don’t have control over the time period.
Whilst we were in a Macedonian coffee shop, drinking possibly the best macchiato of our lives, Adam got on the phone with a sales representative from the UK camper-van company Spaceships. For 15 pounds a day we had ourselves a camper-van for just under 2 weeks. The pick up location was Barcelona and the drop off location was London. This would mean that we would arrive at my sisters apartment in Kings Cross, London just in time to get ourselves up to Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games.
Part of the pick up deal was that we had to meet the previous renters of the car at Barcelona airport for the handover. This meant that we would get the van in whatever condition they decided to leave it in. It turned out amazingly -as these random events often do. They were a Canadian couple who had spent the last 30 days travelling down to Spain from London and they gave us a very detailed run-down of what to expect from the roads and from the van itself. After chatting with them for a bit they decided to give us the bicycles they’d picked up in London and had planned to give away in good faith to someone who needed them. They told us that we could have the bikes on the condition that we pass on the favour to someone in need. We agreed and were stoked with having not only our own set of wheels but bicycles to help us explore the French countryside.
We made our way up from Barcelona into France without any troubles. Our budget while we had the van was about 10-20euros a night for accommodation so we were on the lookout for budget campsites and Aires de Service. Aires de Service were motorhome stops that exist all along the roads through France. They are on big motorways and on smaller country roads as well. They are free to stay for 24 hours and often have services such as toilets, showers, picnic tables etc. The only issue is that they have been getting a bad reputation in recent years as a target for thieves and criminals. There are horror stories of thieves who put gas in through an open window to knock out the owners while they were sleeping. The owners would wake the following day to find all their valuables gone. Nethertheless, Adam and I wanted to give it a go at least once and it didn’t hurt our pockets either as it is completely free!
I am, by nature, a massive scaredy-cat so when we pulled up at our first Aires de Service which was a small park about 300 metres from a major service station, I wasn’t feeling great about the situation. It looked like somewhere dodgy deals take place. But we cooked our dinner and watched as two other campers pulled up, one with a young child and the other an elderly couple. I was paranoid as we settled down to sleep. Adam wasn’t worried and fell asleep almost instantly but I found the constant noises and cars slowly driving past disconcerting. At one stage a car pulled up behind our van, headlights blaring for a few minutes before the engine was turned off. I peeked out from behind the curtains at the back and saw to my relief that it was another family in a sedan who were trying to get some sleep on their journey to wherever.
After three days sightseeing during the day and sleeping at Aires de services at night, I suggested we start looking for campgrounds instead. I was a bit over waiting in the lines for showers with all the truck drivers. Also the lack of security at the Aires meant minimal sleep for me (not Adam haha) and they weren’t exactly nice to look at either.
The first campground we stayed at was magic. It was on a tiny backroad lined with sunflower fields and stood next to a lake with lots of trees and a few family set-ups. At ten euros for the night we weren’t complaining. We took the bikes out for a spin and enjoyed the serenity.
From then on, travelling through France was lovely. Having a car meant that we could stop in all the random little towns along the way and we felt like we got a nice feel for French country life. The people were really friendly and the food was delicious (except for the coffee).
Bordeaux was the real surprise for us. The city itself was gorgeous and we had fun riding our bikes around to the main tourist spots. We got our hair cut in Bordeaux (our second time on our travels) which was a hilarious experience in itself.
And we booked into a personal wine tasting seminar which was a highlight of our time in France. For 15 Euro, we were taken on a tasting journey through the different regions in France and both the food and the wine were exquisite.
We didn’t have to worry about asking stupid questions as the sommelier running the tasting session was very down to earth and patiently explained what the hell “appellation d’origine contrôlée” was and how we could tell which wine to buy based on the label and year.
Paris was pretty special. The highlights were when we caught up with our French friends who we first met in Morocco. Talking to them gave us a great insight into the alternative scene in Paris and the mentality of the French people. And we also met our Aussie friends Jake and Amy who we keep bumping into, first in Mostar, then Rome and now Paris.
We also had one of the bikes stolen in the middle of Paris which was a real bummer and meant that Adam had to ‘double’ me almost 5kms back to our campsite past seedy streets and the occasional prostitute.
Our last few days in France saw us heading up the North West coast on our way to Calais from which we would catch the car ferry over the the UK. The scenery was beautiful.
After having the good bike of the two stolen in Paris, we were a little down about how we were going to pass on the good deed by giving our bike to someone in need. We were setting up camp for the night on our last night in France when Adam spotted an elderly man checking out a bike that was for sale for 50 euros near the campground office. Adam approached the guy who turned out to be Dutch and spoke very limited English. After a lot of gesturing Adam finally convinced the guy to take our bike for free. He was so grateful that he came over half an hour later with some amazing craft beers and beer glasses as a thank you. What a nice way to end our travels through France.
We got up the next morning bright and early and drove onto the ferry at Calais. Our next stop: London.