As you may know if you have read my previous blog posts, I own a big yellow money pit. I love her, but as with many old cars she seems to love the garage more than me, and she definitely doesn’t like my bank account. She’s the butt of a lot of jokes, swear words, exasperation and horror. But the feeling of hitting the road in her makes up for all of these.
The dream of a Europe road trip was just that, a big dream. Ive been screen-shotting locations throughout Europe for the last three years, I promised myself each year, each time I saw and saved an amazing location that one day I would do that road trip. Cut to a few months ago and I was invited to Tentsile’s European Campout in South Germany. I jumped at the opportunity… in theory, I actually only confirmed my attendance with about a week to go before the festival, and the ferry- well that was booked the day before. Lola was once more in the garage- although, in this case it was all planned. She was booked in for welding and MOT work, ready to go the Friday before we needed to leave on Monday, so all was going to plan. Cut to Friday afternoon, the garage called and suggested I come down and take a look, the horror I arrived to is below.
So there was no chance she was going to be fit for a three week road trip through Europe (I figured, if I’m going down to Germany what the heck lets go hard!)
I spent the weekend frantically calling in every favour I could possibly think of, a very good friend came through and said he had an old VW camper I could borrow for the trip, it would go in for its MOT and be ready asap. Unfortunately, it seemed the odds were stacked against us the timings just wouldn’t work out. Back to the drawing board, or in this case the frantic google search. It felt like my plans and dream were crashing around my ears. Looking for a VW camper van for July and August (high season) is virtually impossible. But, by Monday morning I had somehow found probably the only camper van in England not booked up!! For this I have to give a massive thanks to Kevs Campers (www.kevskampers.com) for hooking us up with Freddie, an ’84 Westfalia, left hand drive and ready to hit Europe – a literal life and trip saver!
We left Reading in a state of high excitement, heading toward Dover blasting some tunes and chatting excitedly about the trip ahead of us. Miraculously all went smoothly, we headed down to Germany with enough time to stop off in Belgium and find some incredible coffee (We may have accidentally parked in the lot just in front of the ‘camper friendly’ one and woken to some construction workers literally building and clearing around us… whoops!) We found the correct lot and parked up before hunting down some coffee. I could not recommend ‘Humble Coffee’ in Tournai, Belgium more! We may also have stopped in Carrefour and bought (and consequently eaten) our body weight in Croissants, and damn were they good!
Post coffee and croissants (as you can tell we really embraced the European culture… well the food aspect of it at least!) From there we had two days to get all the way across Belgium and into Southern Germany, all very well and fine in theory but add in 30+ degree heat and no AC or cruise control and it was not that pleasant. But hey, thats all part of the adventure right? The sweaty, kind of stinky adventure- the joy of both of you being sweaty is that you can’t smell each other (but I must apologise for anyone who encountered us, especially toward the end of the trip!) By that point it had been 3 weeks since our last shower, nothing more than a couple of glacial lake swims.
But, back to Tentsile- I could not have imagined a more perfect way to spend 2 days than lounging in tents strung up in the trees, swimming in the lake, sipping on some good German beer and listening to live music. Having been driving for the last 4 days it was a perfect respite to constant concentration and navigating foreign roads (and traffic- we had some really aggressive lorry drivers throughout our trip!!) Our time at the campout ended all too soon, before we knew it we were packing up our tents and piling all our gear back into the van.
Time to head even further South to possibly one of my favourite stops on the whole trip, Eibsee lake in Germany, the plan was to spend the afternoon here and wait for the soft evening light of sunset, and of course for the crowds to disperse. luckily in the end we didn’t need to. The clouds created the perfect natural diffuser for the bright light and we were able to shoot a lot earlier than expected, the light was just incredible. I had been aiming to shoot a lot more lifestyle and portraiture work on this trip and the opportunities arose perfectly, thanks to my incredibly beautiful best friend Ophelia, pictured below.
After Germany we meandered on through Austria, into Northern Italy and through Switzerland. Unfortunately The Dolomites didn’t come off as we had planned. This was a huge blow, and a real lesson to me to manage my expectations and not let setbacks ruin a trip. Due to the insane (and unexpected) high temperatures and the steep and long roads we decided not to risk putting Freddie through too much strain and risk, and miss off a few stops in our journey and head south. It took us about 12 hours to drive south and across the entirety of Italy, and then back up to the Swiss border! We spent a perfect night in North East Italy, exploring a stunning mountain town, wearing jumpers (a huge and welcome thrill!!) and drinking wine. The next morning I had planned to do a sunrise hike up to a small but beautiful mountain lake. In the end, the trail views ended up being better than the lake (I got rained out pretty quickly) but thats all part of the experience of course. We made up for this when we stumbled across the most stunning alpine lake right by the road side and spent a while watching the ducks splash about and shooting the magic reflection. The joy of having absolutely no schedule and sleeping in your van is that you can stop whenever and wherever you want, you can move. Onward, to Switzerland the country I was most excited for, the country I had seen and saved endless photographs of. It did not disappoint, in around five days we had covered almost every location I had pin pointed and I had been totally blown away by every single one. We were insanely lucky with the weather, despite the incredible heat we had cloud coverage every day, creating insane soft light and allowing me to shoot all day, every day as well as having some stunning morning light.
However, soon after Ophelia left for South of France the weather turned on me. I had two days in Chamonix before heading north to return to the UK and for most of the time it rained almost constantly, as a lover of mood this didn’t bother me too much, I spent all day reading and by the time I had finished my book (which was written by my prep school matron and which I throughly recommend) the rain had stopped, the fog was low and I decided to do a ten mile hike I had my eye on with only three hours till sunset. I had hoped to camp up on the summit but I managed to leave my tent back in Reading! The hike was worth it, evidenced below.’
The next day I started the ten hour drive to Calais. I decided to take a day and a half to complete it to avoid a last minute rushing any unnecessary anxiety, I spent my last night in a sports centre parking lot in a small village and took some time to do a total clear out of the van- I have no idea how or where I accumulated so much mess and rubbish! This trip was one of my all time favourites, I pushed myself further than ever before, both professionally and personally and I honestly could not have asked for a better travel partner throughout this trip than Ophelia. Two people cramped up in a small, hot van could definitely bring out issues between friends that normal life doesn’t. Thank fully this was not the case, over the entire trip I laughed more than I have for years, I forgot my problems, I ate a lot of awesome snacks and drank way too much coffee and energy drinks. From creating banging playlists, to making up hilarious games to keep me awake at 2am halfway through a five hour drive Ophelia was a saint, and I am sure as heck already planning our next trip together, Northern Europe who’s down?!!