2012 – rOaDTriP, tHe mOUnTaIns

Homeless!!

That’s how we started this roadtrip..

Because we’re moving to the UK we decided to go for a roadtrip first as we both have no idea wether we get a holiday with our new jobs. So we handed in the keys of our apartment in Antwerp and left..

It sure is a strange feeling knowing that you leave but ain’t  coming back after your holiday.. ?

Our sails were set  ..  direction ..   the mOUntains!!

Saturday afternoon we left about 15h via Luxembourg to Ulm/Germany where we ended up at a camperspot.. The next day we moved on to Austria, the flat landscape made place for hills and just before lunch we crossed the border near to Innsbruck. A bit later we stopped for a break and a first meet with the snow for Lowie! So far Stella performed really well, we cruised at 55-60 mph and ran a similar amount of petrol, as the previous 1745 engine, including the Eberspacher which we had running for a few hours. A bit of a relief as she wasn’t very economical on the Winter Trail.

More driving on schedule today and so after a lovely drive through a different landscape as we’re used to (beach/sea), we end up on a parking in front of a hotel named Humlerhof, you’re aloud to sleep here if you take a meal, which we did.. It was absolutely freezing that night as we were on top of a mountain and there was a strong wind. Lucy was very thankful for installing a heater as, although the bus is not completely windproof, it kept it comfy inside!

We brought Lowie’s tractor and he made good use of it, a few times he got a bit too excited and did a face plant which was usually followed by a loud siren 😉

We made a rough route of what we would like to do/see and so we head a bit more south, direction Italy. I would like to drive the Passo del Stelvio and the Passo del Gothard, both very famous for being such a nice drive with a stunning view. Later in the afternoon we are stopped by the Austrian Police, they ask for my board documents which are fine but I can only give them a copy from my drivings license as I have a ban for 8 days In Belgium for speeding.. After a lot of explanation they want me to get out of the bus, and they suddenly tell me they stopped me for speeding  ??  I had to follow the officer to his car where he showed me his “old school” speed gun which reads 70 km/h.. Bollocks !! I didn’t go that fast and the car in front of me was going a lot faster.. no no not true we checked him as well they said..  mmm..uhu .. I couldn’t believe what they were saying as the speed gun only shows the distance and speed.. no license plate, date/time, picture or anything that relates to me.. ?! Apart from that there were no signs on the road and it was downhill!! Corrupt me thinks!! Than they started moaning about my rear license plate which is the official one I got from the Belgium DVLA, they claimed it was the wrong one as it didn’t have a B attached.. huh?? I said this is the one the government send me years ago and has been on my car ever since.. No good they said and because of that we’ll fine you 25€ for the plate and 25€ for speeding and Lucy had to drive the bus.. Pff wankers!!  Because the fine was only 50€ I stopped arguing, payed and left with an awkward feeling about their way of handling?! Either way this was corrupt or time had stood still for at least 20 years..? really??

Anyway, we decide to leave Austria for what it is and cross the border to Italy, after a long climb we arrive on top of a mountain just next to a ski station, the urge for getting on my board is big but I’m not on my own here and there’s no town/shops for Lucy to get a coffee, so we continue driving.. Whilst driving through a lovely Italian town we stop at the local playground so Lowie can have a bit of a run around, he needs it as living in a confined space is not really ideal for a little un, specially when you have to keep the doors shut to keep the heat inside!

Later on that day we end up on a lovely Fruit farm.. Quite popular so it seems as we’re not the only ones here! For a tenner a night you get a clean toilet, shower, water and electric’s..! The weather is a lot nicer and we can actually have the doors open and don’t need the heater on!

The next morning we’re off again, direction Stelvio.. Saddly to find out that they closed the pass.. bugger! I did try to get on there but half way they blocked the road which was rather annoying! So we had to re-route.. an hour or so later we stopped at a great “lunch” spot next to a river with a fantastic view. For Lowie it’s all fun with his watering-can he’d play for hours..

A lot of roads and passes are closed and again we had to re-route and because we had to find a place to spend the night we decided to go to Livigno.

We drove through a long old one way tunnel in which the sound of the engine really came alive.. back to 2nd and pedal to the metal yeehaa!! 😀 What a sound!!! After we came out of the tunnel we were surprised by a breathtaking view, it’s like entering a whole other world.. the frozen river, snowy mountains and open tunnel (gallery) sure make this an amazing drive!! I never visited Livigno before but a few mates went there and told me it’s tax-free! Cheap petrol (1,19€), pizza’s and alcohol is on the list! 😉

We didn’t really liked the camperspot in Livigno and so we parked up at a square, only to find out in the morning it was right in front of a school!! Great.. a few hundred little troubles passing the bus and making all sorts of noises and knocking on the bus.. ggrrrrr!

Livigno is quite cool as it looks like it’s separated from the world being built right in between the mountains. I couldn’t resist any longer, grabbed my board and went off boarding, the snow & weather was fantastic and they were building a rather spectacular kicker/table/spine high up the mountain.. In all the years I’ve been ‘snowing’ I’ve never seen one like this, it had a balcony and very sharp edges and the right-hand kicker was absolutely mahoosive!! After having fun on the mountain it was time to put Lowie on my board and take him for a slide 🙂 he wasn’t sure at first but once he got down and got the hang of it and made a lot of fun.

Because we didn’t want to hear hundreds of kids passing the bus again in the morning we decided to look elsewhere for a spot to sleep. After half an hour searching we find a good spot on top of a mountain and later that night it start’s snowing..

It’s very different waking up with a layer of snow on the bus and as usual the heater was turned on very early to keep most of the cold out. We went back down to the town and shelter in the indoor parking at the ski station as the snow is quite heavy and I rather avoid driving in the snow with this tyre setup!

So far all went well, for those who didn’t catch up on the updates, Stella has had a lot of new features since our previous trip and everything works fantastic except for my reverse gear.. it pops out or does funny things..

A few hours later it clears up a bit and we go back on the road, a bit later we make a lunch stop at a petrol station. As usual we start with Lowie first as when he sees food there’s no way ‘he ain’t gonna get some’.. Once he’s done he sits behind the steering wheel and does his vrrrooommm broooom broomm 😀 Than all of sudden he opens the front door by mistake and falls out of the bus right on his face ..?!!! Lucy jumps from the back seat in one go over the front seat and picks Lowie up. A bit of panic as Lowie has blood all over his face and by the looks of it it seems quite serious!! I look around and fortunately I spot a police car just next to the petrol station. I run up to them and ask for the nearest hospital. 20 mins later we arrive in a Swiss hospital and fortunately they can see Lowie straight away.. The bleeding has stopped and Lowie has a massive swollen lip. After a proper examination everything seems to be fine and there’s no need for an X-ray . Thank god all is fine as it was quite a shock when it happened!! I think the fact that Stella sits a bit lower might have helped..  So lowering your vehicle is for a better purpose after all 😉 😀 For those traveling with young kids be warned!

Our next stop is Novate Mezolla. A spot we found in the book with a very nice picture and.. it sure was worth it!! What a relief to be out of the cold snowy mountains as we can open up the doors again. This location is awesome, free, a decent playground, a tap with continues running drink water and a lake with a stunning view.. specially in the morning when the clouds were hanging just above the lake, a tiny wooden fisher boat and a few snowy mountain tops peaking out.. perfect landscape for paintings!!

We stayed here for a few days as the temperature was really nice and apart from the last day we were mostly on our own and even had the BBQ out :-).. We went out for a little drive around the beautiful Lago di Como, made a stop to the local laundry place as that was urgent as Mr Lowie went through all his clothes in no time 😉

The next day we continued driving and went to Lago di Maggiore, yet again another stunning lake right in between the mountains with stunning views. Because it was Easter weekend the whole area was packed with tourists and we noticed that not only the Dutchies are mobile-home crazy but the Italians just love it.. hundreds we’ve seen and it’s only Easter so I can imagine what this place would look like in the summer, thank god we won’t be there 😉 After a bit of a search we found a spot in Oggebio to spend the night next to a very friendly German who was also out with his family in a VW T4.

My initial idea was to cruise around in the Alps and for some crazy reason I really wanted to visit Liechtenstein 😀 but since it became a little out of our direction we left it for what it was and made a new route. The matterhorn and Mont Blanc were now on our mind and so we went back on the road into the mountains..

My reverse went from bad to worse, it pops out and if I try to keep it in gear it makes a squeaky noise. Not good, I think it’s broken and try  to use it as little as possible.

It’s crazy to see what kind of villages are out here in the mountains.. I’ve been here many many times and done quite a few resorts for snowboarding but I always went up and down, so never took the time really to enjoy all the beautiful landscapes.. We wanted to do another pass but yet again they closed it down and we were forced onto a train through the mountains. Another spooky town was passed and a rather very cool village was to come after which was all built out of wood and looked to be quite old and very cool..  A bit later we stopped for dinner, we found some local people (mainly older) to be very unfriendly, even being parked away from houses we still were chased to go elsewhere .. no camping!!?? We’re only making dinner here!! Continued by a furious conversation it ruined my dinner and we took off to our next location..

I’d have to say that a holiday like this with a 20 month old baby is NOT easy.. it creates a lot of stress sometimes, knowing you’re in a tiny space cooking dinner, keeping the doors shut to keep the cold out, a little one that gets in a strop and starts throwing his dinner or yoghurt everywhere .. and three in there makes it very very small.. Thank god this is a highroof van as it would be nearly impossible to do this in a “normal” bus.. 😀 You certainly have to have a good relationship as it will put you on a test sometimes.. 😉

The next morning we wake up on a parking lot in front of a campsite in a place called Briggerbad in Switzerland. A very friendly camping concierge comes around for a chat and tells me he once found a “bulli” in Turkey (where he was born) but shortly after it got nicked.. His love for VW campers is big so it seems and he tell’s me that the campsite is closed for it’s yearly maintenance but he’s happy to let us in for water and use of the playground. A quick tour around the campsite shows us a pond with a rather rare kind of bird.. the Black swan, and other rarely seen birds.. They have 2 big playgrounds, very large shower canteens and other luxury, an impressive water slide but most important they have a natural hot spring!!  (For those reading with a Splitty camper van, be sure to check the SSVC as I would like to plan/organize a summer roadtrip event to this campsite next year 😉 )

After a lovely morning we get back in the van for a little drive, Zermatt is on target and only 1 hour later we arrive in this car free ski resort. A taxi driver comes up and tells me I ignored a sign saying only those with a permit are aloud to drive here and if I don’t return I most likely will receive a 500chf ticket.. OOoops.  I would’ve loved to go boarding but the hassle of parking in the previous village and taking the train back here and then lift all the way up the mountain will take too much time and so we set off again..

The weather is really nice and we decide to drive to Trient near to Martigny which is not far away from the Mont Blanc, unfortunately once we arrive the weather has changed and the camperspot we were looking for is not serviced meaning no water.. We don’t really see a reason to stay here as there’s no shop around where we could find some food and go back. In Martigny we spot a campsite and decide to check it out, we want a shower and get our electrics charged.  Despite the reception not being manned we went in to get a shower.. half an hour later we’re all clean and still nobody at the reception.. mmm Free shower it is then !! 😀 Later that evening we go out eating and have a proper Swiss cheese fondue.. yummie yummie!!

When I fire Stella up the next morning she’s not running great, she’s had the same mood twice before this holiday.. She won’t run stationary and cuts out the second you take your foot of the throttle.. weird as it only happened 3 times and once the engine is warmed up everything is fine.. Oh well, we just blame it on having double carbs and move on I guess 🙂 .. After a very nice cruise through the snowy mountain tops we end up in front of the Mont Blanc, the low clouds prevent us from seeing Europe’s biggest mountain and we drive up to the Tunnel. After a 15 min wait we can finally go and at the till we get a 48€ surprise presented.. WTF!? It might be a return but this tunnel is bloody expensive!!  Ahh well.. you only live once and we are here now so let’s move on huh!.  Courmayeur is where we end up on a massive parking space where we’re aloud to sleep, only 1 other camper is out to withstand the cold nights here :-D..

In the morning we drive to the center and park right next to the fire station, whilst I was up at the information center to get some showers sorted the firefighters came out and had a proper nose at my bus. We took the opportunity to ask if they could spare us some tap water as we ran out the night before!! 😀 Obviously they couldn’t say no.. 😀 they were super friendly and took Lowie up in the cab .. 🙂 not sure if he really liked it but sure was fun to do!

An hour or so later whilst having lunch near a playground I checked my front tyres again, why?! Well, because after the Winter Trail I had it all back lowered again and messed around with adjusting the front beam as before my tires were heavily worn on the interior.. Despite having this done and fitted brand-new tyres, the result was worse and I started to worry as we’ve done about 2500 km and the interior/inside of my tyres is yet again completely worn ?!! (unfortunately there was no time to align the bus before we left due to moving out and lots of other things that needed sorting) Luckily we brought a laptop and so I went in to the local library to get wifi and started looking for a pair of new tyres.. :-S Yeah right as if I was to find low profile ones like this in the mountains.. several phone calls, emails and visits to all 4 garages in town later I ended up with no luck! The only place where I could get them was online, like I usually do, but they don’t do a fast delivery service and it would take 3-5 days delivery .. mmm not so great news as we’re planning to drive more north.. Later that evening we order a nice pizza and hit our nest early!

The next day I’m all focussed in getting new tyres and so we decide to leave and drive direction Annecy.. I stop at the first big town and check a local garage to see what they stock, no luck.. I find a pair which would do the job (after I would raise the van) but they are from a client and not for sale.. More driving and a few stops later I try a commercial tyre place named “First Stop” the manager speaks english and is very friendly ( my french is ok to go out eating but not so fantastic when it comes to my tyre problem 😀 ), I ask him if he has a used 185/60/15 tyre as I’ve got one already on the roof rack and this could be a temporary fix if I manage to raise my van high enough … No luck.. The man is however willing to help me out and gives me an address of another tyre center not far away ..  20 mins later I arrive there and yet another person is willing to help but doesn’t have what I need. He explains that because they are directional I could swap tyres around as a plan B and sends me off to another place as he is all booked up and has no time ..  it’s friday after noon eh!!  Another 15 mins later I end up at yet again another garage that is not willing to help me at all, he doesn’t have time and only shouts it’s friday afternoon mate!!? great!!  Seeing as it’s 3pm and knowing that I won’t find much in the weekend I feel a massive bummer hanging and as a last shot I drive back to the “First stop” garage. I ask the guy to switch my tyres as at least this will get me a little further but he refuses as he thinks it’s too dangerous.. aaaahhhrrrr! now what??! The last thing I want to do is call is my recovery insurance for a pair of worn tyres! The manager feels for me ( I think) and he suddenly comes up with ‘Pneus Claude’.. Go there, they have your size in stock for sure!!    Yeah right.. as if .. yes yes he said..  It’s a very big tyre center in Switzerland. Mmm doubting what he says I ask for their nr and give them a buzz.. A friendly yet very fast french speaking person answers the phone and I ask him if he’s got 165/50/15 in stock.. what car sir? doesn’t matter I just want those tyres!!.. hold on..  ..   . … Hello.. yes.. We have 4 in stock sir..    no way.. seriously ? Can you please check if this is 100% correct.. yes sir we call you back in 20 mins.. ok..  Half an hour later I get a call back from Pneus Claude, I can barely understand what he says but the friendly shop manager is kind enough to help me out.. 4 in stock and they’re 105 Swiss Franks, aligned and fitted, each.. .. hell yeah!!!   If you come before 18.30h we can still fit them today sir.. Barely finished his words i’m already in the van shouting a zillion thank you’s to the shop manager and on my way..

It’s 18.35h when we arrive at the tyre center and although I’m too late they still want to fit the tyres but seeing as they’re so big I ask them if they can align my bus as well.. No problem sir tomorrow 7 ‘o clock in the morning.. eeeuuuhhh what?? Well sir it’s a bit late and the only space we have is then, we work from 7 till 11 am on saturday.. oh well 7am it is then!.. After a long search we finally find a nice and quite space to sleep.. a few beers is what I need to help the stress disappear.. what a day..??!

6.30am, can you believe that on your holiday, it sure hurts but hey it’s for the best of all of us.. Arriving 10 mins ahead of my appointment this ‘joint’ is already alive and kicking. They’re super organized and very friendly, my old tyres get knocked off and my rims are now fitted with quality Bridgestone rubber, next, I move to another location within the building for the alignment. A very enthusiastic guy is looking forward to getting Stella all sorted out, not a straight forward job but he try’s to get the best out of it and has to compromise my camber with adjusting the toe-in a bit more.. By now I’ve already spoken to nearly everybody that works here and a few people showed me their VW’s all be it watercoolers 😉 this place is massive and even offers a canteen with free wifi! Whilst my van is up in the air I take the advantage of nosing around at the underneath (mind you Lucy and Lowie are still in the back of the bus asleep!) it all looks great (it’s all new ! :-D), the engine is nice and dry and everything is all solid except for one thing of which I already was slightly suspicious.. A nut, where the nose part of my gearbox is mounted to the chassis, is missing and another one is loose.. this explains the ‘sloppy’ shifting..  A few mins later this is all sorted and the friendly worker asks me if I would like a shower..? a bit confused I reply.. is it really that bad? 😉 It must be about 10am when we are ALL cleaned up and leave.

Since we skipped Avoriaz/Morzine (due to the tyre problem) where I planned to go snowboarding, we changed course again. Our new destiny was Les Vosges in France, a beautiful area where I used to go snowboarding ages ago.

I forgot it’s easter and we always went around new year.. The nearer we got the more rain we saw.. 😦 there was no evidence of snow here and so there went my last hope for a ride.. We found a spot in front of a camping where we spend the night. After a long evening we’re tired and crawl under the duvee with a clattering noise of the rain on the roof..

It’s still raining whilst having breakfast and so we decide to move on, not really wanting to go back but with this weather there’s no reason to stay.. We decide to do some laundry here first and get set back on time because of a failure of the dryer which pushed us to get our laundry finished at the next possible laundry .. GrrRRrr

Once on the road, we’re going good, I want to travel a bit faster and so we’re cruising at 65 mph, seems no problem for my engine and there’s plenty of throttle left even the usage is not significant. We stop in Luxembourg for cheap petrol and dinner, all loaded we head back into Belgium.. Looking at the map for a place to spend the night, I noticed Nisramont is not far away and decide to head there. We added this location on this years Winter Trail so it felt good to go back.

In the morning I couldn’t resist in snapping a picture on the same spot as where Stella was parked during the Winter Trail, afterwards we went back direction Antwerp..After a proper clean up Stella was all good to go and we decided on spending our last night at the river “de schelde kaaien”, seeing as this is/was a spot we came often ( as many others do) to chill, watch the sunset or simply wander about life..

Despite the location having a build up for an upcoming event and being surveilled by the security, we managed to sleep here as I went over to the ‘ol chap and explained this was our last night in Antwerp.. He asked to move my bus even more on site so he could keep an eye on it while we were a sleep.. aaahh man that’s cool!! We enjoyed the sunset and had a few beers to set us off to bed.

Early wake up, coffee- breakfast and time to move on.. We’ve sorted the garage and our stuff to take to the UK and Stella get’s locked up.. sadly I blink a tear away whilst leaving Antwerp.. We’ll be back one day!!

Yet again another roadtrip done, this time with no major issues at all!! All be it that we lost a day or 2 with finding the right tyres but hey, if you want it perfect than book an all exclusive in Egypt!! We loved it, it wasn’t always easy but it sure was worth it !! How many people can say they’ve been through most of the famous ski resorts with their bus whilst it was still bloody freezin and snowing!! 😀

Hope you enjoyed the story and thanks for reading!!

For now it’s picture time!

All ready to go and saying goodbye to the neighbors .

Arrived late on a busy camperspot in Ulm.

Cool campervan!

No sun this time..

But a fantastic view..

A different look outside from what we’re used to see on holiday..

Lowie meets snow for the 1st time.

Playing hide and seek 🙂

Back on the road ..

Unfortunately for Lucy, Lowie is only happy on the front seat .

Fantastic cruising..

Time for Mrs. Busdriver to get behind the wheel.

2nd night, very very cold as we’re on top of a mountain and it’s very windy here.

Morning-routine :

Breakfast!

Than time for Junior Busdriver to take his position ;-).

And followed with a morning race, downhill was much more fun, but painful as well ..

More driving for Lucy after our lovely Police adventure ..

Great view!!

After a long steep road we parked right on top next to a ski station 🙂

Quite chilly..

More stunning views as we continued.. (we were quite high up here)

Lots of driving means daddy needs to go for a .. 😉

Having lunch..

And off course a bit of entertaining for lowie..

Lowie exploring the mountains.

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