RIP, Harrison The Ford

I think we knew deep down that our van wasn’t coming back from this. He’d lost too much blood oil for it to be an innocent glitch. “Your van is kaputt!” said the mechanic, grimly, and as my dad says: bad news is the same in any language.

It’s been a strange three days of feeling very hectic whilst simultaneously sitting around waiting for phone-calls from the insurance company. I didn’t want to leave the van in Hungary; we’d put so much love (and money) into our adventure. We’d put so much time into making him a home. But it turns out to be pretty expensive to ship a broken old van back to England. 

Once we got the news that a tow truck was coming to pick us up we had about an hour to pack. We unscrewed the solar panel from the roof and undid all the electric parts that Josh had studied and put together himself. We packed up all we could and finished the rest on the side of the road opposite the hotel, writing my address on cardboard boxes of switches, camping equipment and wiring to be sent to us later as our van hung by his hind legs. Our tow truck driver gave me cigarettes and we smoked in the thirty degree heat as I explained that the word for this in our language is “fucked”. (I hope he realised that the Heineken I gave him when we were clearing out was alcohol-free, othereise he’s in for a nasty shock.)

It is 8.45PM and we are in our hotel room, with flights booked for tomorrow. I’ve realised that true happiness is being able to take a shower without needing to put a token in a meter or hastily shaving my toes whilst an impatient family waits their turn outside. The WiFi is really fast! But also the true meaning of happiness is climbing across the rocks of a little island, cycling really fast through the forest and not dying, cooking yourself octopus tentacles in a car park and taking ridiculous jumping photos with the person you love.

our jumping photo was on the stolen camera. instead here’s a frankly repulsive picture of us embracing scientology in budapest

We are coming back a month earlier than we’d planned, but it’s ok. I’ve had a brilliant, stressful, uncomfortable, wonderful seven weeks. Despite all our stuff getting nicked, I feel really glad that I went on this adventure and really lucky that Josh was here with me. He’s been amazing, and even when he’s not amazing we can laugh about it later. We can laugh about all of this later. I feel lucky to know so many great people who offered us help when we were in trouble (thank you Kat for the suitcases and your kindness). Because of this I don’t completely feel like we’re coming back to a post apocalyptic wasteland of despair.

RIP Harrison. You were our home and it’s going to feel weird not sleeping in your dark, womblike belly anymore. We’re so proud that you made it nearly 6,000 miles across seven countries and you did it all with dents in your side and an adequate stereo system. We hope you find peace in the scrapyard.

See you in England, everyone else.


The City Of Vienna And Like, One Street In Budapest 

I really enjoyed Vienna. It felt really… I guess comfortable to walk around. It wasn’t jam-packed with people and I didn’t get in a tizzy trying to navigate the Tube, like I normally would.

It helped that we had the wonderful livejournal-alumn Kirsten with us, who treated us to lunch and gave us a tour of the city. We walked through the flea market, across town and along the river. Without her, Josh and I definitely would have wandered aimlessly until I ended up getting distracted by a Bershka. Thank you Kerstin, you are lovely. 

Once we’d gone our separate ways we ended up walking into an art exhibition on the street and bought some matcha soda as we waited to see WONDER WOMAN after a month of me constantly complaining about countries we’ve been in not showing it. It was everything my superhero-loving girl-geek ass wanted and I left the cinema with a big grin on my face. Austrian cinema-goers seem marginally better than English ones, but then the Austrians are able to have bars and art and community gardens by the river and not drown themselves, so Austria wins.

And then into Hungary. The relief that they speak German also was strong, since the only thing I am able to say is a very panicked “see ya!” which does mean hello/goodbye even if it’s not actually spelt like that. We stayed at a lovely little campsite that was just an elderly couple’s back garden and they were very patient when I didn’t know how to work their shower.

And then Budapest. 

As soon as we reached the city our van started leaking oil pretty heavily. The Ford garage was “too busy” to help us, so left a nice black puddle in their driveway. We’ve been parked on this one street for the last three or four hours, waiting for the AAs in England and Hungary to communicate with each other. I’ve seen many areas of interest such as the local Spar and the nemzeti dohanybolt. Truly, a rich cultural experience today. 

can the universe just give us a break please

I’m A Tourist, Get Me Out Of Here

We drove for a day and a half to get out of Italy, eventually arriving in Austria. Somehow “birthplace of Hitler” seemed more appealing to us than “crimescene and beligerant turdfest Italia”. 

the plastic cover for our broken window, propped up with a bit of carrot.

I sobbed in the passenger seat when we realised it was nether financially viable nor safe to take the long route through Greece with a broken window. I just wanted pistachios and souvlaki and gatakis and skeelos. With the main reason I came on this trip a write-off, I almost wished I could teleport back to my normal, secure bedroom. Italy left me with a lot of mosquito bites and I look like I’ve grown extra elbows all over my body. 

Nevertheless, Austria is gloriously German and everything is green and wooden and traditional. I asked Josh to remind me what the place we found to stay was called and he replied, “I dunno, Felch-something.” I recognise words here, although we are actually in Ferlach. You can smoke indoors here, and look up at the mountains.

We took an afternoon trip into Slovenia and saw Lake Bled. If I get my fourth period here I swear, the universe will officially be proven as a collossal joke. Here is the only island in the country, and a mean looking swan. It’s pouring with rain, which is unfortunate since all or waterproofs were stolen. We waded into the cold water and laughed at our misfortunes. 

How Our Van Got Broken Into And We Lost Everything 

Searching for somewhere to park, we happened upon a small town in the midst of a festival. At one end of town, a live band played as old folks line-danced and in the busier shopping street, men with guitars and kazoos played boisterous music to a crowd that filled the whole road. We ate pizza in a restaurant opposite and soaked up the atmosphere of Italy.

Then everything went wrong.

Yesterday. We parked by the beach and walked across the dunes. Set our towels down and it was hot. I’m reading The Island Of Doctor Moreau and it was absorbing. At six o’clock, we went back to the van to drive to Pompeii. You know, volcano town.

I saw my Batgirl, the figurehead of our dashboard travels, lying in a puddle of smashed glass. CDs strewn across the dirt road. It didn’t register until we opened the side door. The inside was trashed; the mattress pulled aside, the bed frame wrenched up at an angle. And our stuff, gone.

Cameras, laptops, bikes. Stolen. Anything electrical. The hooks that held our coats and jackets are gone, the walls feel bare. A box with my watch, swiss army knife and gameboy chucked into a rucksack – our rucksack – without even a glance. They took our bag of old clothes. Our dirty fucking laundry. Enjoy my period pants, you fucks. 

The window of our driver’s cab was small enough for a child to squeeze through.

It’s been a long day of making a police report and an insurance claim. Our possessions, stuff we’ve earnt or been given with love, are in some grotty home somewhere. Josh has no underwear. I didn’t sleep last night because they stole one of our mattresses. Every time I closed my eyes I could see strangers climbing through the van, touching our possessions and evaluating their worth. 

Everything feels dirty.

The worse part of this educational European experience was the people. We were on a road leading to the beach. Countless people would have walked or driven by as this was happening; seen the glass on the floor, the people hauling our stuff out the back doors. And they just kept going.

The people who drove past a girl crying on the side of the road as her boyfriend swept glass from the passenger seat.

Fuck Italy. I’ve changed my mind. I hope you burn. Today we spend our money on replacing the van window, the mattress and the camping stove and I so very sick of it all.

Pisa & Rome

A couple of touristy days in Italy over the last few days. It began when I woke from a sticky, sleep-deprived night in the van, spat toothpaste all down my dress then went to a cafe and set fire to a bin. 

On Friday we caught a pisa the action (sorry) at the leaning tower and had a walk around the cathedral. My balance simply standing up is shaky at the best of times, and I like how I’ve managed to make everything in the above picture look wonky as my brain works to keep me upright. 

Inside the cathedral I felt nothing, but they made Josh wear a paper poncho to cover his man chest and man arms so I was adequately amused. Inside was a work of art of course. Stained glass, patterned ceiling, oil paintings and a nice smiley selfie of Jesus as you walk in. It’s a shame I’m such a muggle. 

The most impressive part of the day was finding a gelato bar by a lake that did you three scoops of ice cream for €2. Unheard of during our path across the continent, and considering this was a fairly posh holiday place I felt extra blessed. Sorry history, you were good, but at five weeks into travelling it’s the small things which bring me joy.

Today, Rome. The big one. Sculptors of the modern world, both literally and artistically. Them Romans. We went to Vatican City but the Pope wouldn’t see us. Saw the Coliseum which looked marvellous in the sun. There was apparently a cat sanctuary at Largo di Torre Argentina, the remains of an ancient theatre, but it was too hot for cats. It was to hot for humans. I spent the day dripping.

Rome is full of culture and history, and when you think about how old everything is, we’re really lucky that it’s survived the world for so long. I don’t know… I struggle with going to places just because they’re famous landmarks, just to say I’ve been there. I’m glad I visited Rome, but I didn’t feel like I had a great connection with the city. I was happiest taking the backstreets. One day I’ll fly in when it’s ten degrees cooler and have a look at the museums.

(Also, five weeks of not having a day to myself to sleep, read, watch a movie and just generally chill out without having to do anything or be anywhere is really, really tiring. I feel extra drained this week.) 

We were also surprised at the state Italy is in. Italy always felt like a dominant European power to me; the big boot, serving us all pasta in the moonlight. We were surprised to see how badly the country is doing. The toll-free motorways are appalling (every time we hit a crack or a bump it felt like the van was a plane about to take off) and we’ve visited supermarkets where the aisles have been empty. Once you’re outside the tourist attractions and retirement areas, you can see the uncollected rubbish piling up. It definitely doesn’t deserve the neglect it seems to receive. Somebody give Italy a hug.

When In Roam 

Stuck in the midst of a heatwave, our little van does the best it can not to kill us in our sleep. In hindsight we probably should have put in a window. But nevertheless we carried on into Italy.

We stopped in Finale Ligure, a seaside town that Josh wanted to check out because of its cycling. So he went on some more difficult trails whilst I watched House of Cards in the van. I like Italy because it’s impossible; words are even more difficult to interpret but I heard a woman literally exclaim “mamma mia!”. They are pretty unforgiving of our ignorance; Josh tried to order a sausage pizza but our mangled pronunciation got him a pesto one. Who orders a pesto pizza?, the great chefs of Italy probably asked each other on their great chefs of Italy message board. 

We went to Modena, where parts of Master of None season two was filmed. Sadly the locals seemed to be unaware of this – I was expecting Aziz Ansari fridge magnets! Expecting a quaint village, it was actually a decent-sized town with shops and restaurants. The parma ham was delicious. 

Currently we are at Lago di Suviana, about two hours away from Florence. We swam in the freezing cold waters and then bravely attempted to walk around the lake. It took four and a half hours and involved a lot of scrambling up hills in search of hiking paths. We found lizards, tadpoles and a big snake. I am having my third period in five weeks, which means that I am officially a superhero due to my impressive resilience walking long distances with cramps. Also my body is a joke. 

Italy does not have many supermarkets. I miss the Carrefours and Super U’s of France and Spain already. On the plus side, gnocchi is 49 cents a packet and the granny smith apples are huge. Ciao seems to mean hello and goodbye. Everywhere sounds like crickets chirping in the grass. Tomorrow we head towards the more recognisable landmarks, such as Pisa, but for now I’m totally relaxed in the summer heat.

Europe: The Alcohol-Free Beer Review 

Where do you take a girl who doesn’t drink when you’re abroad? Whereas past-Me would have treated this as a three month bar hop around Europe, sober-Me has largely enjoyed the varying sizes and strengths of European coffee. Alcohol-free beer back home is pretty eh, so I was interested to see if other countries have embraced the brand. And they have! Spain sells alcohol-free beer by the single can for around fifty to sixty cents, and the north Of France had a great selection of fruity offerings, mainly from Bavaria and San Miguel. Here are the ones we’ve tried so far.

Mahou: Sin

Imagine my sheer, unbridled joy when I realised that you can have an alcohol-free beer with your meal at a Spanish McDonald’s. It was actually 1% according to the back of the can, and made me feel as close to drunk as I’ve been in the last two and a half years. A solid entry into the alcohol-free beer leagues and better than the becks blue I am often stuck with back home. Probably shouldn’t have more than one though.

Rating: 7 for taste plus 1 bonus point because I’m having a beer at McDonalds!!

Budvar 0.0%: Pomegranate, Peach, Pineapple

Deliciously sweet, like going for a walk in the countryside and settling down with a nice picnic. If you’d poured this into a glass and told me it was Shloer, I wouldn’t have questioned you. Not too fizzy which means you could drink this indefintely. Definitely a nice novelty flavour that you could buy a six pack of and share with your family without worrying you were crafting the next generation of alcoholics. 

Rating: 8

San Miguel 0,0: Lemon, Apple

These taste like they are trying to be beer, which I appreciated. I love the fancy flavours but a successful alcohol-free beer needs to make me feel like I’m one of the lads still. The lemon one was the right side of bitter, with a strongly carbonated aftertaste. Burp. I could stand in a group at a party with this and not feel awkward.

Rating: 6

San Miguel 0,0: Isotonica

Oh god. What is that taste? Hang on, I’ll ask Josh. He has no idea either. It tastes like a beer, but a bad beer. A beer with a bad reputation, a beer that nobody wants to sit next to at lunchtime. Unnerving aftertaste like the hops went rotten or something. I am not feeling this one.

Rating: 1 – bad beer.

Buckler 0,0

Thanks to the earlier Mahou, we were able to ask the bartender for “dos sin alcohol?” and these appeared. €2, better than the staggering £4.60 we’ve paid for Brewdog’s Nanny State in Brighton. As a malt-based beer it was alright, something to kill time with as we waited to use the bathroom. The aftertaste is what ruins it for me, it feels like waking up in the morning with a dry mouth.

Rating: 4

Heineken 0%

YES. We are in complete agreement that this is the best, genuine alcohol-free beer we’ve found so far. From my hazy memory it does actually taste like a good lager, and Josh corroborated my suspicions. Plus it looks legit too. I’ve seen advertisements for it on billboards in Spain, and if they’d rather pay to display this rather than the alcoholic version than it must be good. 

Rating: 10

Aiguade Moritz 0,0%

A pretty standard entry elevated into the ranks of interesting by it’s funky design. Not too malty or acidic, and since I’m pretty much an AFB guru now I can drink one of these as easy as drinking a coke.

Rating: 5

Damn 0,0%

I’m not sure if Damn is the brand name or whether this beer was just shouting at me to get my attention, but a can of this was about 35 cents and we drank them in the street as we walked through Madrid. Very good for something so cheap, not too hoppy and very enjoyable.

Rating: 6

Panaché <1%
Thankfully this didn’t make me feel dangerous like the 1% Mahou and it also tastes delicious. Panaché seems to be peach flavoured and is wonderfully sweet on a hot day. I’m running out of words to describe fake beer but I’ll definitely pick up another six pack of these when I’m back in France.

Rating: 8