Broken down, engine sizzling, black smoke billowing, I wearily repeated the name of the town and confirmed, not for the first time, we were definitely in France and yes, the town definitely existed! As luck would have it, we had broken down 500m from the road sign bearing the town’s name and road number. My patience was stretched to the breaking point when my English based breakdown company informed me once again that neither the road nor town was listed on their database. At this point, and not for the first time in the trip, I realized that although a road trip through rural France in a vintage camper van may be romantic in theory; the reality was somewhat more frustrating.
Our decision to go on a road trip came about quickly. At number two on my “ten things to do before I’m thirty” list was to buy a classic VW camper van. At number one on the list was to live abroad for a year. So when Mat, my partner, signed a rugby contract with an Italian club six months shy of my 30th birthday we jumped at the chance to combine the two, and our road trip dream was born.
We scoured the country for a suitable camper van and after many false starts we found “Bluebelle” our 1967 blue and white split screen 1600cc camper van. After a few trips to the garage for some fine tuning and an overhaul of the engine we were ready to go. We decided to get the ferry from Poole to St Malo and travel south through France and into Italy where we would get our ferry from Genoa to Olbia in Sardinia.
One month ago, the idea of traveling to our new home in Sardinia via France and Italy in our VW had seemed like a novel way to start a new life chapter. But after four hours roadside with no breakdown service seemingly able to locate us, I began to wonder if we had fully appreciated the highs, lows and pitfalls of this mode of travel. Throw in the fact that we had decided to travel to our new home with our five month old puppy in tow and the road trip, to outsiders looked crazy. To us, it seemed an adventure, and one were relishing.
Besides the two hourly engine cooling stops, the 50mph speed limit ensured our trip was not going to be a fast one. But the enforced snail’s pace of travel did allow us to fully appreciate the changing scenery as we drove north to south and allowed us to take numerous photos as we traveled leisurely through beautiful towns, villages and hamlets. However, the date of our pre-booked ferry loomed ominously over us as we headed slowly southwards through France and onwards towards Genoa. The decision to drive to Sardinia was motivated by the desire to see France, the real France, so we planned our route to avoid toll roads and big cities and escape to the country; the fact “Bluebelle” had an aversion to any sort of hill and a faulty fuel gauge only added to already convoluted route map.
Unfortunately Mat, having never visited, let alone driven through remote agricultural France before, decided none-the-less that he knew better than our trusty satnav and took it upon himself to direct me along unmade farm tracks, into hamlets with no names and up and down what can only be described as mountains with hair pin bends, steep drops and no chance of pulling over to allow the frustrated drivers behind to pass us. This resulted in a) a lot of arguing and b) a number of 25-point turns much to the amusement of the locals (I defy anyone to turn a VW camper van in 3-points on a single track farm road).