Tag: Road Trip

A Grand Day Out

A Grand Day Out

This was our last full day in Vegas and we had decided to hire a car and head on a road trip to the Grand Canyon.  We had gone all in on the American experience and booked a bright red convertible Mustang.  We spent an age waiting for the paperwork to be sorted in the office before walking up to the garage to pick up our car.  It was parked next to a classic mustang and looked amazing.  J started off the drive and, as we had been told that mobile signal was a bit patchy out in the wild, we hired a sat nav to make sure we got there ok.


Before we got out of the car park we decided that we would have the top down but flashing lights on the dashboard meant that we couldn’t get things moving.  I hopped out and had a look and there was a plastic coke bottle trapped in the mechanism.  Once this was out of the way, the roof collapsed, the dashboard lights went off and we were ready to go.  I went to the ‘recent places’ on the sat nav menu and picked ‘Grand Canyon’ and off we went. Just the open road and a four hour trip ahead of us.  As we drove out of Vegas on the slip road circling up to the freeway above, I looked down and saw dozens of people living in the water pipes in the middle of the roundabout.  Another example of the absolute misery living inside the magic of Vegas but swept away out of view.  It was all a bit sad.

I nodded off after about an hour and woke up about an hour later as our car pulled up at the side of the road.  We had stopped to put the roof up as it was freezing cold and noisy.  Why are convertibles even a thing?  It is always exactly the same; great for half an hour then the reality of cold, noisy trips with flies in your hair hits home.   As I woke up, another reality hit me.  The sat nav was suggesting that we drive another mile down the road, do a U-turn and then head back exactly where we had just come from.


No matter how many times I reset the sat nav, it always suggested that we needed to turn around.  I felt sick.  I offered to drive the next stage and drove like an idiot back to Vegas, right through Vegas and out the other side for another 2 hours in that direction.  Before we got too far, we stopped for petrol and half a ton of chocolate and confectionary.  I went to fill up the car and a guy at the next pump shouted over, ‘Hey, the green pump is the diesel over here’.  No kidding, I was about thirty centimetres away from filling a hired American sports car with the wrong fuel in the middle of a desert.  I loved that guy and when I went inside to pay for the fuel and take a comfort break, I told him so just as he was in mid comfort break which just seemed to terrify him a little bit.


We drove over the Hoover Dam but didn’t get to see it. The 400 car traffic jam on the road that we should have taken suggested we had dodged a bullet there.  We crossed over into Arizona and changed time zones which just further added to the confusion in my mind about the day.  That wrong-way Tom Tom made me feel like even satellites were out to get me.  We drove through miles of dusty nothing broken up by the odd rickety farm or motor home surrounded by scrap and broken walls or toys.  We eventually turned off the motorway and drove another 40 minutes to the Grand Canyon National Park Centre.  There were all sorts of options for helicopter or plane tours but that all seemed a bit too much and far too exciting.

We paid our money over and were directed to a bus that would take us around the park.  The first stop was Hualapai Ranch, a Wild West themed cafe and horse stop where you could do a horse trip into the canyon.  My allergy to horses was so bad/silly that we skipped that stop altogether and made for the second stop which was the glass walkway at Eagle Point.  After a brief walk through the visitor centre which outlined the struggles that the First Nations had faced being kicked off their land and then oppressed for generations, you had to hand over pretty much everything that you owned into a locker.  Phones, coins, anything electrical….it was easier to just put everything in there to not get shouted at by the menacing security team.

Once all of your possessions are handed over, you get to step out onto the glass horseshoe floating above the canyon. This is your first real view of the Canyon and it is only when you get out onto the walkway that you get a feel for the scale.  A helicopter flying through the canyon looks like a dot and allows you to work out the enormity of what are you looking at.  As you get onto the walkway, without your camera, you see that the Native Americans are getting their own back after their years of oppression.  They have been handed cameras and no training and then take 10-15 pictures of couples in various positions, arms out like an eagle, pretending to push your friend off the side, funny falls pictures, you get the idea, and then you get back inside and they charge you $100 to get them printed.  The price in no way reflects the quality of the photography as they were so over exposed you couldn’t make out THE most amazing view I had ever seen and it looked like the couples were standing in front of a white screen.


There was a t-shirt in the shop that showed the scale of the canyon; it was three times the height of the Eiffel Tower.  It was simply stunning and I couldn’t take it all in reasonably. It was too beautiful, too much to take in.  It was called Eagle Point as the rocks in the middle of the canyon looked like an eagle flying down.  I can only imagine how amazing this must have been to the First Nations looking at this for the first time; how inspiring it must have been, and I could understand the inspiration for their legends  in such a magical place.  Can you imagine being the first pioneer on the back of a horse exploring the area, coming across this view and telling everyone else to turn back as there was nothing here to see.  Give me a few years and I will have a visitor centre knocked up and will be charging $75 to get in there….Ker-ching!


We hopped onto the bus for the short ride to the third and final spot called Guano Point.  I was stunned to hear that someone had had a similar idea to me about money making in this amazing place, just a bit more dangerous and stupid.  Upon seeing THE most stunning vista on the planet they decided to climb down it and take a look at the cave and found it was filled to the brim with thousands of years worth of bat shit, Guano.  Ignoring the opportunity of the visitor centre and photo opportunities, this guy nailed it.  Let’s mine out all of that bat shit and sell it as fertiliser.   This wasn’t in the time of cowboys and the Wild West, this was 1957.  At today’s prices, they invested $31m in mining this, literally, 100,000 tons of shit that was calculated to be in the cave.  It turned out that there was only 1,000 and so at $900 per ton they lost a huge amount of money.

What a testament to human stupidity that someone could lose money in this most amazing part of the world.  We were there at about 5pm and every time you turned your head to look at the view the light had changed as the sun dropped and no matter how many times you looked at each place, it became more beautiful.  Words cannot begin to do justice to how glorious this place is.  You have to see this place at some point in your life, it really is that good.  There were a lot of people there that seemed so inspired by the magic of the place they decided to see if they could fly. That was the only reason I can think of that people were standing so close to the edge of the hundreds of metres deep crater on the Earth.  Tools.

It was getting dark and very, very cold and so we made our way back to the car to head home.  It was by now properly dark and we got a hell of a shock when we opened the car door to find that the wing mirrors cast a horse shaped light on the floor, a very cool feature!  It must have been a 250 mile trip but it was maybe 175 miles as the crow flies from Vegas to the park.  It seemed impossible to believe as there was nothing else it could be, but you could see the glow of Vegas pretty much from the car park onwards.  We watched the glow on the horizon all the way home and we were right, that was all it could have been.  It summed up Vegas, a colossal waste of resource in a huge party of vanity and self-obsessed hedonism.

We dropped off the car and walked back to the hotel for a quick shower and dress for dinner.  We had a buffet at the Stratosphere and it was like the third circle of hell. The food was OK but it was just too much.  You could have all four corners of the culinary planet on your plate at the same time and no one could judge you.  Again, Vegas in a meal, excessive, classless, do it because you can, not because its right. I felt sick but only after my fifth plate and two bowls of ice cream.  I needed to pack but could no longer walk without feeling sick, so I retired and lay like the fat pig I was.  There could be no bigger contrast to the magical day that I had had than the state of me right now!

To SLR or not SLR, that is the question.

To SLR or not SLR, that is the question.

First of all, many thanks to those people who have been kind enough to get in touch and thank me for posting on this blog, it really has been quite an eye-opener that anyone is actually reading this, never mind thinking that it is any good!

I started writing this blog mainly for myself, so that I could look back in years to come and remember how I felt at the time about the trips that I take.  I just wish that I had started it years ago as I have only very distant memories of a lot of my holidays and feel like I missed huge opportunities to capture my time in Shanghai, Sydney and New York, as well as countless other less exotic trips.

I was asked by one person what camera I used to take the pictures on the blog.  The honest answer is that I can’t always remember!  I use both an SLR camera and an iPhone 6 and the mobile phone camera is so good it is often very hard to recall which I captured a particular image on.

I think that the speed at which you can whip out your phone and get a picture makes it so much more convenient and the new features such as slow motion, time lapse and Pano mean that a lot of the features that used to be SLR unique are now tucked in your pocket.

One of my favourite pictures from my European road trip

Having said that, if you have the time to set up the SLR on a tripod and spend some time getting the settings right and taking time to frame a show, then the results can be stunning.  Let me be clear here, results that others get can be stunning, my pictures very rarely get anywhere close to being stunning and I am happy with amateur or average!

Another of my favourite pictures, this time of the Alps.

I have added two pictures, one from each source, and wonder if you can tell the difference?

The camera that I use is a Canon EOS 500D which is the entry level camera or at least it was when I bought it probably ten years ago or more and, I am pretty sure, it cost me around £500.  I have quickly checked the interweb and it looks as if the prices have dropped a fair bit.  You can pick up the newer, fancier and more compact version for only £299 now.

When you compare that to about a grand for the new iPhone handset, then it doesn’t feel quite to expensive to buy an SLR.

One of the other questions that I was asked about the European road trip that I recently completed was “What would you do differently?” If you recall, one of the main reasons that I went on the trip was to drive over mountain passes and take in the stunning views while zigzagging up a mountain road.

I just wish that I had some decent footage of that as recording it on my phone while it was clipped to a phone holder on the windscreen gave some pretty poor pictures!  I hadn’t realised how cheap it was to get your hands on these fancy dash cams.  For £35.99 I would have snapped your hand off for this before I left!


That’s enough from me now, thanks for reading and thanks so much for your comments and questions.

PS – Just in case you were wondering, the picture of the Alps is SLR, the picture of the church at Bourg-en-Bresse is taken on a iPhone 6



Day 11 – Done and Dusted

Up with the larks I was at the ferry terminal before most of the employees of DFDS and so I was first in the queue to get boarded.  I picked a seat right in the nose of the ferry and watched like a dog waiting at the front window of its house awaiting its owner to return, except I was desperate to see the famous white cliffs again.

Back to the white/grey cliffs off Dover.

I won’t bore you with my drive home, I have probably bored you enough already. But let me summarise the trip the best I can.

– I loved the freedom of going where I wanted, when I wanted.

– I loved visiting history spots and feeling like I was surrounded by the echos of the past; Mierlo, Bastogne, Normandy.

– The drive from Italy back into France was amazing.

– I met some really nice people and saw some amazing characters.

– I did too much driving and not enough viewing. I should have stopped at villages and wandered around rather than seeing places at 30 mph in my car.

– I wish I had spent more money on toll roads and given myself more time to get out into wherever I landed each night and bought meals. I like food, but ended up eating tins of meat from the UK or supermarket cheese and bread. I only had two bought meals in restaurants.

– I wish I had planned more and worked out what I wanted to see and the route ahead of the trip so I could spend more time taking in the sights and people around me and less time looking at maps and Googling routes!

Would I do it again? Yes, in a heartbeat.

Would I do it differently? Yes, I think I would.


Over three thousand miles and 75 hours of driving…….DONE!


Day 10 – D Day

Day 10 – D Day


On June 6th 2017 I woke up, on the anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, about 100 meters away from the sea at Lion Sur Mer. I would quite like that to be on my gravestone if possible, that’s how excited I was about this coming day ahead.  I had slept with my window open so that I could see the grey English Channel as soon as I woke up and try to image what it would have felt like, as a French Citizen living in that time, to see the huge armada closing down to provide deliverance.

My Morning View. Perfect

Showered and ready for the big day ahead, in the most overly complex and useless shower I had ever seen,  I packed up and checked out of my room.  I was just about to set off when the hotel owner, who must have anticipated how useless I was, had been into my room to make sure I had left nothing behind, bellowed at me out of the window and threw my blue tooth speaker down to me below. Suitably embarrassed, I headed for Arromanches as the hotel receptionist had told me that was the centre for events that day.

Over -Complex Shower

As I made my way along the coastline, my excitement really built up. Pretty much every village had a green that had been turned into a makeshift campsite that was filled with period military vehicles such as jeeps and trucks, each one surrounded by enthusiasts dressed up in military regalia. There were English, French, Germans and Americans and there were soldiers, paratroopers and nurses. It all felt like I was in the middle of the preparation for D-Day on the other side of the water.

I followed the sea road west until the road turned sharply to the left and there was a car park on the bend full of trip buses and hundreds of cars. I didn’t stop but slowed enough to see what all the fuss was about. Opening out below was the town of Arromanches and there, quite clearly visible still in a broken semi-circle out to sea, were the remnants of the Mulberry Harbour.

Mulberry Harbour Section

This was a giant floating harbour that was built in the United Kingdom and dragged over to France just after the D-Day landings.  Without a port or a harbour being liberated, there had to be somewhere to land supplies to keep the advance powered.  It would take a long time to liberate these strongholds and so we decided to bring our own with us in the meantime.  Here, 70 odd years later, I would say that 15% of it still stands.  Yet again, I felt like I was slap bang in the middle of history.

I followed the road down into the town and quickly found a overfull car park full of motorhomes and men with interesting beards and even more interesting sock and sandal combinations.  I got lucky and managed to pull straight into a space as someone was leaving, I didn’t see one other person in the next 20 minutes get parked in there.

Period costume and a lovely couple to chat to

I was as close to the centre of town as I could have been as the centre had been cordoned off to make it a pedestrianised zone.  There were security guards rummaging through bags, no doubt with the recent attacks in London and Paris still in people’s minds.  The centre was alive with people and I stopped and got a croissant and a coffee and spent 20 minutes people watching.


The high street was full of two things, cafes or gift shops; the only thing breaking them up were the two museums.  In terms of people, there appeared to be five groups:

  • ‘Allied’ tourists, like me, there to pay their respects and feel part of history.
  • ‘Axis’ tourists that, in my mind at least, seemed to be tip toing around and not being too German in case it upset anyone.
  • Veterans that were being dropped off on coaches and delivered by London black cabs. They wore blazers, caps and their medals with huge pride and, the majority of them at least, seemed to wear dubious stains on their trousers.
  • The military fancy dress enthusiast. I would class these as military re-enactment types that take things seriously making sure that look as authentic as possible.  Not to be confused with;
  • Fancy dress types that buy a camouflage jacket from a gift shops and walk around as if they are in the army for a day.

It was group 5 that annoyed me the most.  If I had been one of the veterans, there to remember my lost comrades and show my respects, I am not sure I would have been too happy to see people trying to get in on the act by wearing a polyester cap and desert fatigues.   Anyway, who was I to judge?

The dressy up familly

My coffee finished, I watched the Dutch military marching band come down the main street and form up in the town square.  Shortly afterwards about 20 jeeps turned up with reenactors waving at the crowds.  There was then a short ceremony and speeches in the town square and a moment’s silence and reflection.

I wandered around the shops and picked up a few gifts and, no, I didn’t wear anything remotely military all day.  Outside of the museum there seemed to be a crowd gathering and so I wandered over to see what was going on.  There was a veteran sitting on a bench with his hands over the head of his walking stick looking like a sorcerer staring into his crystal ball.  He was just telling his D-Day story and had a crowd of maybe 50 people around him in raptures.  I say ‘just’ but it was totally remarkable hearing a first-hand account of the day.

He was laughing and joking and making it sound like a lads’ day out by saying things like ‘We got a hell of shock when the bastards started to fire back at us, we didn’t think that was fair’.  But you could see an underlying pain in his eyes that were, I’m sure, slightly filling up.  God only knows what sort of horrors he saw and how many friends he lost on that day and the months that followed.  I felt uneasy, like I was intruding on his grief, and so walked down to the sea front and walked on the sands for a while and just took in the emotion of the day.

An honour to hear his story

I didn’t want to be stuck for accommodation again that night and there was a break in the proceedings so I walked back to the car and headed back along the coast to the east.  I had passed a campsite on the way into town and thought it looked ok so there, on the main road at Asnelles, I headed into Camping Quintefeuille.

The guy behind the counter did not speak a word of English and so I tried my very best to speak to him in French. It didn’t make the transaction any quicker, but it was a good test and I seemed to make myself understood.

I got my tent put up and headed back down into Arromanches. My prime parking space gone, I parked on a farmer’s field just outside of town and wandered back down into town.  I took the longer route to walk along the sea front and watched the dozens of jeeps and various other vehicles form up on the beach for a parade.  Pretty much the second the last vehicle formed up, it began to lash down from the heavens to such a degree that you could see rivers of rainwater forming on the sand.

I stood huddled into the sea wall until the downpour passed and then made my way for another coffee in town.  Heading back to the town square, I passed another crowd which had formed around a veteran.  I missed his story, he was just finishing when I arrived, but realised that he had a Geordie accent.  I waited until the crowd had gone and introduced myself as a fellow Geordie and shook his hand and thanked him for his service.  It turned out that he worked in the civil service and had taken a few trips to a stately home very close to my house and, although he didn’t live in the North East any more, seemed touched that I had taken the time to chat.  Maybe it’s true what they say, a true hero has no idea that they are a hero.

Making my way around the sea front, there was a guy dressed in full on English country gent fancy dress: yellow pants, tweed jacket, checked shirt that only farmers wear and yellow brogues.  My first thought was ‘bloody hell, a French Nigel Farage’.  It wasn’t until the news crew following him came around the corner that I realised that it was him!

Standing to attention

I followed him back down onto the beach as there was clearly something going to happen.  I got chatting to a veteran as we walked across the sand to the piece of the Mulberry Harbour that had been detached and washed up on the beach.  Right next to this, around nine or ten veterans had gathered with a lady dressed in black.  It turned out that her father had been coming to these celebrations for years but this was the first one that he had missed as he had passed away.  Words were spoken by his daughter, salutes were made by the veterans and a minute’s silence was held as his ashes were spread on the golden sand.  With white topped waves crashing in the background and the wind whipping up the beach, one chap just said, ‘Lie in peace, back with your mates’.

It was one of the most emotional things I had ever witnessed.

A touching moment on the beach

As I walked back up the beach I chatted to one of the veterans and said that I thought there would be more things happening in and around the town, that it was supposed to be the centre for activities but there was very little organised.  He explained that the organisers didn’t have enough money for anything else as they were saving up for the 75th Anniversary in 2019.  As each passing year goes by, the numbers of veterans that are alive and fit enough to make the trip dwindles. It was a privilege to be there and see them.

Peace at last

He also told me that the vast majority of the veterans in town that day were ferried there by London taxi drivers as part of an annual charity event. They drive in convey from the UK and are looked after by the drivers.

With no further activities organised for the day, I made my way back up the hill to my car and headed back to the campsite.  There was to be a firework display at midnight and it should have been visible from the sea front just down from my campsite.

Heading back east along towards the campsite, I spotted an older guy hitchhiking and I couldn’t think of a reason why I shouldn’t stop.  He jumped in and I drove him along to his hotel as he had been separated from his sons.  It turns out that he was a taxi driver living in Portsmouth but was born and raised in Sunderland, it really is a small world.

Back in my tent, I relaxed with my book and a brew and sampled some fine dining (bread, butter and a tin of beans) and relaxed until it was time for the fireworks.  I walked down to the sea front and was surprised to find myself alone down there and, in typical French fashion, to see all the houses down there in pitch darkness and looking as if they had just evacuated in anticipation of a super storm hitting the beaches that night.

I walked about a mile up the beach, it must have been 12.15 by the time I gave up and got back to my tent.  Just as I was undressed and tucked into my sleeping bag, the fireworks started.  I leapt into my walking boots and pulled my shorts on and ran down to the sea front just to catch the last few whizzes and bangs.  Shivering and with tears in my eyes, caused by sand being whipped up from the beach rather than emotion, I walked up to the tent and had the best night’s sleep of the trip so far.

Day 9 – Tour de France

Day 9 – Tour de France

I set off nice and early, convinced that if I got myself on the road, I wouldn’t spend all day in the car and would be able to walk the Normandy beaches that evening and enjoy a nice meal for a change.

Just out of the hotel car park, I had to stop pretty much immediately to take a photo of the beautiful church that I had missed in the dark the previous evening; then I was off!  I tried to avoid the motorways.  If I told you that it was see the beautiful villages and see French life you wouldn’t believe me, so I’ll be honest and admit that I just wanted to avoid paying for the roads.


I quickly worked out that the French road system is brilliant if you want to head north/south or east/west but if you are driving diagonally across the country then you are in a pickle.  One village blended into another as I drove and drove and drove.  I was a spectator to French village life, which seemed to involve cycling to the bread shop for a baton and then heading home to close your shutters and sit in the house all day.  There seemed to be very little social activity and the streets always seemed to be empty.

With so much time on my hands my mind began to wander and I got a little philosophical.  My journey had become like the journey through life.  At each junction, I could turn any direction that I wanted and I would never know what I had missed out on around the next corner by plotting the route that I had.  I couldn’t go back, time didn’t permit, so I had to make sure that I picked the best route I could to make it as enjoyable as possible and not look back and worry about what I had missed. Just think about what was to come.

After that, for me, deep thought I was happy to come crashing back down to earth as I passed a sign for Camping Du Coq at a place called Au Bourg. Then I passed a huge silver Coq statue and had to stop to take photographs and laugh at my own coq jokes.  Normal service was resumed.

I passed through the lovely town of Autun, cutting over west to east towards the equally lovely Bourges before heading north towards the Normandy coast.  As time ticked on and I became sick of driving the day continued to blur at the edges with so much driving. I was beginning to regret not paying the tolls and no doubt would have arrived by now, as night began to fall.


Heading towards Caen, inland but on the eastern end of the D-Day beaches (so the area where the English forces were more prevalent), I started to recognise some of the place names on the sign posts and my excitement levels started to pick up again.  I arrived at the beaches at Luc-Sur-Mer, convinced that I would be able to find a campsite but aware that they may be busy.  It must have been around 7pm by the time I arrived in Caen and I spent maybe an hour driving up and down the coast following signs to campsites that all seemed to be closed for the evening. I would guess that I followed signs to 5 different sites and I didn’t speak to a soul at any of them.

Disappointed, I began to look for hotels as it had just started to drizzle and my mood was sour.  Eventually I ended up at Lion Sur Mer, after driving through many little seaside places that looked to have been abandoned, and asked a hotel if they had any vacancies.  I was so relieved when the chap said that they did and handed me the key to my room.  I took up my bags and opened the window and realised that my room looked out over around 100 meters of footpath and then the English Channel.  I would be waking up on the anniversary of D-Day and the first thing that I would see when I woke up would be the very water on which the boats would have been on so many years ago. All of a sudden, the long drive and fuss to find a bed for the night didn’t seem to matter.

DA7DE883-F782-496B-8C32-B57C24760BA7The fact that my room looked like it hadn’t been painted or redecorated since 1944 didn’t matter to me. I was buzzing and decided that at half eight at night I had done maybe 2,000 steps and that wasn’t good enough. I jumped into my running gear and decided to go for a run along the D-Day beaches. I must have got about 20 yards from the hotel when the gentle drizzle that had been hanging in the air progressed into a full on blizzard. I ran just short of 5km wearing a waterproof jacket and by the time I got back in the room there wasn’t a single centimetre of my clothing that wasn’t wringing wet.


Showered and dried, I wandered down into reception to see if I could get some food. It was about half nine and I was told that there was no food being served and that the bar was shut. I assumed that I wasn’t the only one that was in the area to commemorate D-Day and I was stunned at the lack of foresight. When I asked why the bar wasn’t open they said that they had been very busy serving evening meals and were too tired to stay open.  My mind blown, I went out on the hunt for food.

I knew from the hotel/campsite search in the surrounding villages and town that there were no shops or takeaways open so I knew I had a task on my hands. I did pass one kebab shop that looked open but by the time I had parked and walked back down the road the lights were off and my opportunity was missed. I ended up in Ouistreham and picked up a McDonalds but, as it was closing I had to take it away. It was black dark and still lashing down so I headed back to my hotel to eat in my bed.

By the time I got back my chips were freezing, the burger was like a leather belt and the coke in my ice had melted so I ended up with watered down Coke Zero.  I watched the end of the only English language TV that I could find, the wartime classic ‘A Bridge Too Far’, and drifted off to sleep listening to the sea lap up against the shore.  This was so far from being perfect, yet perfect, all at the same time


Day 8 – Sunday Funday

Day 8 – Sunday Funday

I woke up all confused in a bed, my head a little foggy after my handful of beers. The sound of heavy rain hitting the bonnet of my car made me smile as I was in a motel and not a tent.  I had forgotten to eat last night, the thought of trying to order food and getting it 7 hours later made me sad. So much for eating an authentic Italian meal made by a Grandma!

Breakfast was included in the stay and so I filled up on pastries and coffee.  The two young girls looking after the breakfast room hurried around picking up and cleaning and smiling.  They were dripping in fashion labels from head to toe and looked every bit the classy and stylish Italian stereotype.

As full as a gun, I packed up and set off heading for better Alps!  I was heading for the Aosta Valley and into Switzerland and wanted to see Mont Blanc.  As the hotel was right on the motorway, I was straight off on the road and ready to rock.  The Italian motorway system had other ideas.  I spent an hour driving back and forth along toll roads trying to get the right exit to head into the mountains.  I was feeling glum.

Eventually, after many swear words and many burnt Euros, I was on the way.  Again, I was on the flat, but this time south of the Alps, and could see the mountains starting to form up on the horizon.  I was starting to get excited again. Maybe this was the day that my ‘proper’ mountain drive would happen.


As I made my way towards Aosta we were following the River Po up the valley. It looked cold and grey but in full flow.  It looked like it was an artery coming out of the alps and was bleeding heavily; just waiting for winter to turn up to help scab it over and stop the flow with its ice.

On my left-hand side, was a small mountain and from about half way until about 90% of the way up it was covered in cloud.  It looked like the mountain was trying to hide in the clouds but failing. Like a giraffe hiding behind a tree with its big daft head sticking out.

It looked as if someone was standing on the top of the mountain throwing enormous handkerchiefs down and watching them float to the bottom of the valley but it wasn’t, it was paragliders.  Maybe about half a dozen of them floating down. The views they had must have been stunning.

I was getting close to Aosta where I would be forced to make another route call. North into Switzerland or north west into France? I realised I had still not eaten a meal in Italy, other than a hotel breakfast.  I decided that I would take a rest in Aosta and work out the next steps.

I pulled up outside of Restaurant Caesar; a busy looking pizzeria with tables outside looking out onto the wide and clean street.  All the tables were busy with families enjoying their Sunday launch and that’s always a great sign.  I picked my pizza. It was like a quattro stagioni but it was salami, red cabbage and fresh basil and it was bloody lovely.  It was so nice and the service so good that I followed up with a load of ice cream.  I was as happy as could be. I finally had my authentic Italian pizza, it was a lovely day, and I was about to attack the Alps.

Yes, I took pictures of my meal.

It was at that table that I decided I would head into France instead of Switzerland.  Switzerland would be expensive and the roads expensive and it’s so……well….neutral.    I may not like France too much, but at least they try things rather than spend their entire existence sitting getting splinters in their backsides.

With fresh excitement, purpose and desire (and a few extra dough-based pounds hanging about my midriff) I hopped back in the car and headed for the mountains along the E25.  A few miles from the border, I stopped for a diesel top up and pottered around the gift shop inside the petrol station.  It was mainly filled with Ferrari and Italian football memorabilia but there, right in the middle of the Juve scarfs and F1 key rings, was a thing of absolute beauty.  Titchy feet loves Limoncello, I had already seen a bottle in the Duty Free on the ferry over and was planning a bottle for the way home as her gift, but she would be blown away by the splendour of this. 1

IMG_9348The fact that is was filled with glorious golden yellow liquid maybe made it stand out like a golden nugget in a wall of shit but, there it was,  a bottle of  limoncello in the shape of Italy.  Priceless. I felt like Indiana Jones and was worried that as soon as I picked this glorious gift up, it would set off booby traps the would force me to prove myself worthy of such a classy gift.

I took a turn off at Chenoz and zig zagged over the mountain passes and worked my way up to the peaks.  Words don’t even begin to do justice to the views and the scale of beauty that I witnessed. Eight hairpin bends later, I ended up following the traffic into a car park rather than up the road.  I didn’t want to admit my mistake and turn around, so I was pleased when I realised that I had accidentally arrived at a Passerella Panoramica, (panoramic footpath according to my Google translator), so I grabbed my camera and set off walking.


On the forest walk to the gantry, you could hear a rumble and roar that grew louder with every step. Eventually the path opened and you could see a drop of maybe 100 meters to a narrow V-shaped valley that was alive with white rapids.  The summer melt was clearly in effect and the noise was amazing.  I was as happy as Larry that the view was free to get down to and wasn’t too busy at all.  Happy with my lot, I continued along the path and as I turned a corner I stopped in my tracks with my mouth wide open.

IMG_9394The view point wasn’t for the rushing water in the valley below, that was just a warm up act. The main event was a suspended walkway that curved away and out from the hill side in an arc of maybe 200 meters.  Looking down, there was nothing but air between the see-through walkway and the ground 160 metres below, but you didn’t look down, you looked out at the most beautiful view of Mont Blanc.

I honestly think that I spent about an hour just taking it all in. Splitting my time between taking photos and trying to burn the sights into my mind in case my camera got stolen before I got home.  I just hope that the attached pictures do it some justice.

IMG_9383Walking back towards the car park I got chatting, in terrible French, to an old lady that must have been in her late seventies. She had been left to sit on a seat with her small dog while her daughter walked down to the gantry I had just left behind.  She was adorable. I told her (the best that I could) that she should walk down as the view was stunning. She told me(again I think she did anyway!) that she had lived in the town below all of her life and that she was too old to walk any further. Bless her. It was hard to work out if she was happy that I had taken the time to chat with her or if she was laughing at my terrible French.

IMG_9399Back at the car, I continued my way along the SS26 towards the Little St Bernard Pass.  The next stop was La Thuile. I stopped to take pictures in the lovely little alpine village. I had just missed the Bataille des Chèvres (goat fight) but the town was all dressed up in its finest still and looked lovely.  Back in the car, continuing up towards the peak, there were hairpin bends and just the most perfect views and the cleanest, crisp fresh air. I stopped every so often to walk up hills and take more pictures and, again, I just hope that they do the place justice as it was stunning.

IMG_9392I crossed the border into France with smatterings of snow all around me, then started my slow and winding drop into the valley that opened up below me.  Bourg Saint Maurice looked like a miniature town way down below, it just didn’t look real, but with each hairpin bend, it got more and more real until the Alps were just a beautiful view in my rear-view mirror.

IMG_9380I had been listening to a podcast on the way over the mountains and it came to me that the anniversary of D-Day was only two days away.  I checked the maps and realised that I could make it there if I didn’t muck about on my way through France.

I decided that I would get on and drive as much as I could. It would be around 600 miles from the Italian border to Normandy and so the more I drove in my great mood, the easier it would be tomorrow.  I ploughed on and I was sent on a massive detour as the Tunnel Du Chat was closed.  The views of the Lac Du Bourget would have been an acceptable compromise for the extra miles and time taken on any other day, but I had been spoilt by the earlier miles over the Alps.

I was frustrated and tired by now and started looking for a campsite around 7pm.  I had another 30-minute detour looking for a signposted campsite that, when I arrived, was shut for the night.  It was getting dark and I was getting tired and so I pressed on further, happy to pay for a hotel and take the extra time driving and getting well rested in a room rather than on a damp floor in my tent.

Eventually, after a fair bit of swearing and grunting at the lack of hotels or bed and breakfasts that had been plentiful all of my day until I wanted one, I ended up in a hotel in Bourg-en-Bresse.

It was too late for food and so I had a beer and bag of nuts as I caught up on the news.  I sat and watched the updates coming in from London of the terrorist attacks and found it all very upsetting.  I had experienced such a beautiful day with amazing sights and met some lovely people, yet lived in a world where hatred and anger like that could live side by side.  I went to bad happy and tired but disappointed at some of my fellow humans.

Day 7 – Saturday, Champion!

Day 7 – Saturday, Champion!

I woke up all excited. Today was the day that I was going to drive over the Alps.  It was a bright but crisp morning and I enjoyed the red hot shower and a breakfast of nuts and coffee.  The tent was packed up in no time at all and I was back on the road, deliberately looking left all the way so that I wouldn’t realise that I was driving PAST a theme park at 9.30 on a Saturday morning.

The sun quickly burnt through the clouds and it turned into a glorious morning as I passed through little German villages, each of them looking more idyllic than the next.  It was Saturday morning and everywhere I passed through, people were heading to their local butchers, bakers and, probably, candlestick makers.  There were very few major supermarkets, it all seemed very old fashioned but beautiful to see.  Parents with kids on the back of bikes, or older kids on their little bikes peddling away like mad to keep up, but all on very safe and very well respected cycle lanes at the side of the road.

I say well respected.  I stopped at a little supermarket to pick up some bread, more nuts and some jam for lunch but as I pulled out of the car park my warning lights started flashing on the dashboard as my boot was still open.

I quickly pulled across to the side of the road as I was convinced that my tent and the rest of my gear was going to fly out across the street.   I pulled right in front of a guy on a bike that was, understandably, furious with me for pulling such a stupid manoeuvre and his mood wasn’t improved as, not realising at that point what I had done, I opened my door and nearly wiped him out a second time.

I learned a few new words in German, none of which I would like to try and repeat in polite company.  Poor fella.

I had passed through Mindenheim, Mindelweg, Kaufbeuren, Marktoberdorf and a town called Roßhaupten when I started to feel a bit peckish as it crept towards lunchtime.  I turned the corner and a beautiful scene unfolded in front of me.  Lake Forggensee looked like it was the equivalent of the Lake District as there were lots of walkers, cyclist and day trippers floating around and loads of water sports taking place on the lake. It turns out that it was manmade, formed by damming the River Lech to better control the melt water coming off the Alps, but it was a beautiful spot.

IMG_9330It looked very much as if the flat lands were now over and I was about to start my trip up into the Alps.  As the scenery panned out in front of me it looked like I was travelling from the centre of a very large plate pie and I was just coming up to the built up crust round the edges, all jagged and angry.

The backdrop was stunning and I was very excited as I ate my bread and jam and let the warm sun kiss my face.  I was surrounded by maybe 50 people sunbathing and playing around in the water and it all felt very out of place seeing this with snow and mountains in the background.



This is not my Picture, it’s from Google, but its a good one!

I set off again, full and happy, and headed towards what I had been looking forward to for longer than I could remember.  My trip over the Alps; winding roads and stunning views.  This was it!

Maybe I was tired, maybe I was over excited, it’s hard to say, but the next few hours were really disappointing.  Rather than the tight hairpins and fantastic scenery I had in my mind’s eye, I sat on a motorway through mountains with high barriers and pretty dull views.  I made my way through Austria and stopped for petrol at a place called Fernpasse Rast.  It looked like a Bavarian hostel and all the staff were wearing traditional dress.  Again, maybe it was just my mood but it felt like hell.  There were about half a dozen trip buses, and about 250 Chinese and Indian tourists dismounted, each with a selfie stick in one hand and some seriously strong cigarettes in the other, and filled the toilets and shops with stink and excited chatter.

I pushed on to the Brenner pass and jumped over the border into Italy.  This part of the trip wasn’t what I had hoped for and I was starting to feel glum and then I remembered that it was Saturday.    Champions League final Saturday!

I quickly tried to recall who was playing and remembered that it was Juventus playing Real Madrid.  I would be able to watch an Italian team in the Champions League final in their home country.  Suddenly, my zest was back.  I parked up and had a quick review of the maps and realised that I could probably make Milan in time to get showered, booted and suited in time for the game.  Maybe wear a crisp white shirt and have some pasta made by a 95-year-old grandma that would welcome me into her kitchen to watch the game with her family?


I felt like I had passed over an imaginary line from Northern to Southern Europe.  Suddenly, the clean perfection of Germany and Austria was replaced by scatty looking buildings, graffiti all over and a general feel of everything being half finished, or maybe half started.  Everything looked grim including the vehicles around me.

It felt like every 20 minutes I passed a pay station for the motorway.  I don’t even know how much I was charged at each station as the shame of having to get out of my car, run around to the passenger side to pay and then run back to jump in before the barrier came down was too much for me! It blows my mind that the rest of Europe still drive on the wrong side of the road 🙂

Lots of angry drivers and 4 hours later, I was near Milan.  I was tired, it was raining and I felt miserable.  I felt as if I had made the wrong choice and should have headed any other direction except Italy.  I didn’t want to fight my way into the centre of a town, never mind a city the size of Milan.  The driving was crazy and aggressive on the motorways and the city would have been a million times worse.  I felt like I wanted out of Italy and wanted to be close to the way out when I set off.

I pulled off the motorway and pulled up at a motel AS Cambiago.  I could pretty much park my car inside the bedside table and was happy to be in a bad and limitless hot shower.  I was washed and refreshed and my towel was on the bathroom drier faster than you could say ‘Forza Juve’.

I walked down to the bar, was served an ice cold Peroni and picked my seat for the match just as the teams were lining up for the anthems.  Perfect timing.  I exchanged nods and tuts with an Italian chap who was clearly a huge Juve fan and watched the first half happy that I was getting in the vibe with the locals.

Ronaldo scored on 20 minutes and it looked like it was going to be a horrible night but then Mandzukic scored an unbelievable goal to level it up and set up the second half to be a real spectacle.  I asked my new friend, let’s call him Mario, if he wanted a beer and he happily nodded his agreement.  I then spent the entire half time break and the first five minutes of the second half waiting to get served.

Let me be clear, there was just me stood at the bar.  There was no crowd and no fight to get to the front of a queue, just me, standing there with a 20 Euro note wafting it to show I intended to spend it.  The barman filled up peanut bowls, he wiped glasses clean, he moved papers around, he did anything he could find other than to serve the only customer he had.

I was starting to fall out of love with Italy.

Eventually I was served, gave Mario his beer but he was too engrossed in the football to thank me I think.  As Real Madrid slotted in a second, third and fourth goal without response in the second half I think Mario also forgot how to get the rounds in and say goodbye to me as he just got up and walked off never to be seen again.

Maybe he wasn’t a true friend after all?  That’s why I don’t feel too bad about naming him Mario.