When our Summer Campervan travels came to an end last month, we felt so blessed to have escaped into a world of relative normality.
Earlier in the year, none of us were sure if 2020 would still involve travel at all. For us, we couldn’t wait to get away, taking the bull by the horns, carrying on as best as we could as soon as we could.
In other words – it was more important than ever to get back on the road!
So, once travel corridors opened up and with it an opportunity for adventure across the Channel, we decided to make our move!
First though, we had to wait for Wales to open up!
It’s hard to think that back in July, unlike England, Wales was still in lockdown. Longing for the Welsh 5-mile rule and travel restrictions to end, we were beginning to feel frustrated.
We were so ready for new adventures and the feeling of being out of control of our lives was such a heavy weight bearing down. Like most people, all we wanted to do was to be free. Would we ever feel normal again?
Sure enough we didn’t have much longer to wait as our Welsh lockdown came to an end. That same week we booked the Eurotunnel and made our move.
This Summer, we really just wanted to keep it simple. Travel can be amazing when things are going well, but when they go badly, they can do so very quickly.
No more so than in times of Covid. When it seems, that no matter where we are in the world, the virus seems to follow us!
It’s no wonder then that we ended up with Covid ourselves back in March. Maybe, the months that followed battling this new virus brought a stronger determination to get back on the road. One thing’s certain, as soon as we were well enough to do so we were ready for the off!
Thank goodness, our recovery coincided with this window of opportunity. A chance to recuperate in the heat of a French Summer, just us and all the joys of nature without the need to mingle.
Boarding the Eurotunnel in Folkestone made us realise that in fact, nothing much had changed at all. It’s funny when you first set out after some traumatic event in your life. Often we expect some dramatic changes, things to look different or even people reacting strangely.
I’ve noticed this before, after a long recovery several years ago from an operation. It’s almost as if just because I’d stopped doing things that I’d expected the world to have stopped with me!
This I found true of life after lockdown. The only noticeable difference on the tunnel was wearing a face mask! The other rule of staying inside the vehicle is something we do anyway.
By the time we arrived in Calais half an hour later, any anticipation that we may have had lingering swiftly evaporated.
Goodness, we soon find the roads are busy, people are carrying on with life and everything is open.
This is Business as usual and it feels good!
The beauty about France is that we know all too well that we don’t have to worry about using campsites.
Aires in the world of covid come into their own. It’s one less worry, not having to think about where we’ll stay. The next few months will bring more gratitude than ever for the freedom that Aires bring us.
Having caught Covid once, we’re really weary of catching it again. Until scientists know for sure that those who’ve had it are immune, we’re not taking any chances.
To keep contact with others to a minimum, we will use our own toilet and shower for the duration of the trip!
All we have to do now is to choose a region and relax and there’s no better place to start than The Burgundy region.
To arrive in the Summer heat brings an extra sense of happiness. Doesn’t the sun make such a difference to our wellbeing? A feel good factor soon takes over amongst these sunflower-filled fields of blossoming countryside.
We spend our time outdoors. When the weather is constantly good so is the attraction of cycling, walking and just sitting! Breathing in warm air, absorbing the scents of the countryside and above all just enjoying the simple ways of life is all that’s important.
Our first supermarket shop is a surprise one. In Wales, we had to queue up outside, keep our feet within a marked distance, sanitise the trolley and walk round in a one-way system!
Goodness me – there was none of that here! No – it’s a case of carrying on as before. There’s no queuing, no wiping over the trolley and best of all, other than a bottle of hand sanitiser, we could just walk in and wonder around.
The one big difference though – face masks! When we left Wales, these were only mandatory on public transport, a rule that was to stay the same until the end of Summer. In France, we had to wear them everywhere indoors as well as outside in many towns and villages.
For us, we couldn’t go anywhere without one – it’s soon our new fashion accessory!
We soon realise that the French are pretty much either ignoring their 1m social distance rule or are just oblivious to it. First of all, we try and do our bit.
Crossing the road when we see another person and 2m social distancing has been our routine back home. Now we had to adjust all over again.
Inevitably we can’t bring ourselves to have a drink out, let alone a meal. That is until we find a mountain refuge, where we finally brave it for lunch on top of the most glorious mountain top.
We feel accomplished at our efforts and go on to do this a couple more times during the trip…so brave!
Isn’t it funny how everyday simple gestures are now mammoth events in our lives!
We soon get into the French way of doing things and for a few months, it’s almost as if the virus is a distant memory.
Of course, it’s not. Before long, France is heading in the wrong direction, their covid figures rising way above the UK. There’s no need to ask why. We know all too well, that the groups of families, friends and happy interactions will all end in tears.
We enjoy the mountains, having spent most of our freedom exploring the remote regions through the Alps. Isolated they may be but quiet they are not.
As Wales was reporting masses of tourists on staycations, the French must have been doing the same.
Mountain passes brought out the swathes of visitors, hikers, cycling enthusiasts and bikers. It’s as busy as ever with no sign of the worldwide lockdown that’s just passed.
Alpine meadows and incredible yet hair-raising mountain passes bring both therapeutic recovery and excitement. At the end of the day, there is nowhere more beautiful to spend our Summer.
France may already be one of the most motorhome-friendly countries in the world, but this Summer it’s off the radar! The sheer scale of motorhomes and campervans exceeds anything we’ve seen before.
Not only that but there’s also an increase in people sleeping in just about anything that they can fit their body in. Yes, have you noticed it too? Cars are now creeping into the Aires or close by, hiding behind bushes or down dirt tracks.
Nigel’s sharp eyes never fails to miss the sneaky “rough camping’ types as the French call it.
Usually confirmed the next morning when our walking routes pass all nationalities, hanging out their damp sleeping bags, the contents of the car or van surrounding every inch of space around them.
Is this the future we wonder?
By the time we reach the South coast of France after spending several weeks in the Alps, France is already taken off the travel corridor list.
Now we have to monitor the situation more than ever. The virus is spreading and so are the chances of department restrictions.
When leaving the UK we subscribed for updates from the “UK Government Foreign Office Travel Advice”. It’s an invaluable free tool when travelling.
As e-mail updates come direct to our inbox, it saves valuable time on searching for the information. We know that the French coast is a virus hotspot, so choose to drive on instead heading inland towards The Gorges du Verdon.
There’s no mistaking the tourists are still out in force. It’s strange seeing so many people carrying on with activities – rafting where buses transport groups, paragliding – strapped to a stranger and hiking trails involving shuttle buses full of people.
Would this be the same back in the UK – we doubt it!
We continued our Summer Campervan travels in both glorious weather and incredible locations. The flexibility we have with a Campervan is appreciated more than ever. We notice an absence of British number plates, those we do see are mainly assigned to cars rather than motorhomes.
When we do come across a fellow British motorhome, it’s good to chat in English for a change and compare travel notes.
As the weeks pass by, we re-discover the special connection we always seem to have with France. It’s such an earthy kind of place, relaxed in rustic appeal with a strong sense of tradition still evident in so many regions.
We’ve driven incredible “Balcony Roads”, swam in clear blue lakes, strolled hilltop villages and hiked the most amazing alpine trails.
Now as we leave the vineyards of the Rhône towards the Jura region, we know we must make a decision. Do we stay in France and have 14-days of isolation on our return to Wales or enter Germany for our final two weeks of the trip?
The choice is relatively easy – Germany it is. We know Germany fairly well, it’s a destination we’ve enjoyed several times before and we know how motorhome-friendly it is too.
Crossing the border from France to Germany was just like old times – busy, unassuming and tinged with sadness to leave France behind.
Having said that, Germany is a country that we actually do enjoy. It’s different to France in so many ways, yet it has a charm and affection that grows on you the more you embrace it.
Normally we’d indulge in our favourite German pastime – Thermes. These incredible bathing experiences involve a variety of hot and cold pools rising from natural elements in the ground and we love them! Best of all, they often have a Stellplatz attached – the German term for motorhome parking.
This trip though, we reluctantly gave them a miss. Too cautious of the virus to want to linger in a hot, steamy environment. Instead we fill our time with walks through the forest, cycling the excellent cycle trails and sheltering from the rain!
Yes – the weather changed not just in Germany but across many parts of Europe. Autumn had arrived early, brining days of wet, chilly weather – we weren’t used to this!
Our route soon took us towards the great rivers of Germany – The Mosel and The Rhine. These vast waterways bring numerous river craft, fairytale castles and riverside Stellplatz full of motorhomes.
What surprises me most is the sheer scale of vineyards lining every inch of hillside either side of the rivers. Steep sloping plantations of uniform vines, immaculate and ripe for picking.
There are few bridges to cross but ferry boats make an ideal alternative. We use one, costing 9 euro – this could get expensive for regular crossings.
These parts are adorned with historic villages, all sweeping down towards the river. Cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings and pavement cafes are filled with mostly German tourists. The rules here had been different again, 1.5m social distancing, face masks compulsory indoors and hand sanitiser but that’s about it.
Of course, just like France, there would be nothing to suggest the crazy world right now. We couldn’t help think that regardless of nationality, people were just fed up with the rules.
As expected, Germany too would soon have a second lockdown. Soon it would be the end of October and it was apparent that the virus in Europe was going from bad to worse.
Our route from Germany to the Eurotunnel would bring no difficulty. By the time we’d reached our final stop on the Mosel, close to Trier, the journey to the train would only be a few hours.
Complying with UK rules, or should I say Welsh rules (we have separate ones) meant completing the “return to the UK” online form 48 hours beforehand.
Those three months of Summer Campervan travels were over in a flash.
For us, it had been the best escape possible. Not only did it bring a realisation that life can go on, but also reassurance.
This important observation couldn’t have been more welcome because it brought hope. We now know that when a vaccine does arrive, normal life will indeed return again and more importantly – quickly.
Never have we seen so many people just willing for life to be good again and it made us feel good too.
So, those Summer Campervan travels were over! Arriving back in Wales to a new set of local restrictions. It was almost as if we’d never been away!
Now a time to try and catch up on some repairs. The Campervan had developed a slight oil leak over the weeks we’d been away, it wouldn’t be long before the £’s would be spent on a few maintenance jobs.
First, it’s emptying the motorhome to give a through clean. It doesn’t matter how many times we try and clean the van when we’re away, there’s nothing like a good scrub whilst on the drive.
With everything washed, cleaned, repaired and polished, we’d soon have our “Dreamcatcher” looking spotless and ready for the next outing.
Adjusting to life back in Wales sort of just happens naturally. If only we could meet family, have that long-awaited get together or a meal out – we long for those days again.
Is it just me, or do you find that time really does fly when you’re away?
It’s funny how the long, lazy days of Summer Campervan travels are quickly over. Instead, replaced with dark nights, non-stop rain and dreary faces! Gosh, don’t people look glum again or is it the “v” word that’s the problem?
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to believe that another year is nearly over. How did we suddenly find ourselves coming home to Wales to Christmas decorations gracing the neighbourhood?
Perhaps it’s just that Christmas is getting ridiculously early each year. Then again, maybe people are just trying to occupy their minds with anything other than the dreaded virus.
What never fails to surprise me is the fact that nothing changes. Why we think it would – I don’t know!
Isn’t it odd that when we’re away from home I imagine some strange metamorphosis taking place in our absence.
It’s as if I have the house up in a sort of cloud! Up there with our house are our friends and relatives, along with our home town. Following just behind comes Wales, then Britain – all there in my bubble. Hovering, waiting for us to return.
Then with Summer Campervan travels at an end, we arrive back to our “tiny house”, finding everything is just as we left it!
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog – my memory doesn’t reach that far back! Two years ago, we downsized our large family home. We found ourselves selling up, to swap the over-indulgent 4 bedrooms, 3 toilets and 3 living rooms for a more sedate lifestyle choice.
It was a move to get away from consumerism – the house full of “stuff”, including an attic of more “stuff”. Boxes stored away for years and never looked at.
The result, is our small but perfectly adequate home. Perfect for low-maintenance too and despite us loving motorhome and Campervan travels, it’s feels good to be home from time to time.
Now more than ever, we’re glad to have a house as well as a Campervan. As we come to the end of another full lockdown here in Wales, we hope we’ll be able to get away within Wales at some point soon.
As I write, England is entering a second lockdown. Europe is experiencing huge increases in the virus and countries are bringing in even tougher new measures to try and combat the spread.
We won’t be able to leave Wales once our lockdown ends, the Welsh rules don’t allow it, not that we’d really want to travel now given the worsening situation.
Instead, we are looking forward – hopeful that the vaccine trials bring good news soon. Now more than ever, we need hope, but we know things will get better.
With the New Year coming ever closer, comes a new beginning, fresh ideas and most of all the gratitude for the life we had before covid.
How we must learn to appreciate, enjoy and grasp life again more than ever. Goodness are we ready!