Driving around Europe sounds sort of romantic, doesn’t it? When we bought our left hand drive car in the summer of 2012 we certainly thought so. Countless hours on French, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Dutch, Polish and Czech roads later and we’re kind of over it. Still, travelling with a car has its plus points. It makes moving house a lot easier, for one. For two, it also means you get to visit a lot of interesting places on your way from here to there.
Our latest road trip took us from Lagos in The Algarve (Portugal), to Neukoelln in Berlin (Germany).
The road trip before that (Berlin to Valencia) took three weeks, but that was far too long. This time we settled on seven days. That seemed just right. Seven days, seven stops. We tried to keep each day’s driving down to about five hours, any longer than that and we get serious road fatigue.
I’ve summed up the highlights of our trip, although to be honest we didn’t get a chance to see or do too much as we were mostly driving, listening to podcasts, and trying to avoid the temptation of junk food.
Lagos to Granada (via Silves and Sesmarias): about 6 hours
Our first day on the road started later than we intended. Both sets of parents are based in the Algarve (mine for six months, James’ permanently) and it would be rude to leave without saying goodbye. Two pit stops and countless cups of tea later, we were on our way. We didn’t reach Granada until 9:30pm, where we encountered a bit of grid-lock on the by-pass. Thankfully our hotel was near the motorway exit, and was also a short stroll from some excellent tapas bars. Dinner time doesn’t start until 10pm in Andalusia so we had plenty of time to freshen up.
Granada to Valencia: 5 hours
Living in Valencia didn’t work out for us, but we’ll never regret our time there because we got to meet Mike and Juergen from For 91 Days. It would be rude of us to drive across Spain without popping in to say hi, so we had a pit-stop in Valencia (and quite a few glasses of vino tinto). We still really need to give Valencia a proper second chance, as one night on the way to Berlin (and one month living by the beach) wasn’t enough.
Valencia to Girona: technically, 4.5 hours. Really, 8.5.
We were all set to hit Girona by lunch time when disaster struck. That’s for another longwinded blog post, : all I’m going to say is that if you’re going to break down in Spain, don’t do it on a Sunday. Once we arrived in Girona it was too late to walk into town, but we did wander up in the morning and oh my lord what a wonderful little city. It’s so beautiful, and the Catalan flags hanging from every window reminded me a bit of Leith last September, with the saltires hanging from almost every window.
Girona to Beaune: 7 hours
When we were planning our route I suggested Beaune. For some reason I thought my favourite cheese, epoisses, came from there but I was wrong. It is, however, the wine capital of Burgundy. Guys, you should have seen the supermarket here. There was a GINORMOUS epoisses that I sadly wasn’t allowed to buy because Mr Sensible pointed out that it would make our car smell of dog farts. I was allowed to buy a magnum of cremant de bourgogne, however, and a few bottles of champagne and white burgundy.
Beaune to Strasbourg: 4 hours
This is when we saw snow for the first time all winter and wondered why we were driving north anyway. Are we mad? After wandering around the city for ages looking for somewhere to eat we eventually stumbled upon Académie de la Bière: two people were just leaving a table and we managed to grab it. The beer was fantastic, as was the flammkuchen. Good music, great atmosphere, and exactly what we needed after a few long days on the road. I’d definitely recommend popping in.
Strasbourg to the Czech Republic: 5.5 hours
We decided to mix things up a bit by driving straight across Germany to stay in a hotel just inside the Czech Republic, a short drive from a town called Cheb (heh heh heh). The hotel, called Seeberg, was just… wow. The views were fantastic, the decor was quaint, and we had a huge two person bath tub in our room! The breakfast was really good, too. The only down side was dinner: it got to 7:30pm and we decided to check out the restaurant across the way. It was closed, and it was the only place nearby. The hotel owner seemed confused that we wanted dinner, and said she could give us some cold meat or something. We decided to drive into town but it was the same story, nothing open. I was gutted as I was really looking forward to trying some hearty Czech cuisine.
Czech Republic to Berlin: 4.5 hours
Our last day of driving and the weather made us suffer. It started raining, but as soon as the rain hit our windscreen it froze. Our windscreen fluid had also frozen, and our wipers were needing replaced, so we pulled into a service station to grab some anti-freeze. While we were cleaning our windscreen a guy came over to us: at first I thought he was some kind of scammer but he was just looking for help. His car’s battery had drained and he needed someone to give him a jump start.
His story was quite interesting. He was checking out a flat in Leipzig for his Scottish flatmate, who he lives with in Wales, and only had 8 hours to make it to Denmark to get a ferry to Newcastle: where he’d be driving to Aberdeen to pick up his mate, then back down to Wales. He was deaf, and I felt a bit guilty that I can’t sign. We gave him a boost and he went on his way: if you’re out there dude, I hope you made it!
All in all I felt like this seven day drive was a bit of a whirlwind, and it made me realise that two nights in a place is better if you really want to see it. Stupidly I didn’t take time off to travel, so I was trying to squeeze in a few hours of work around driving and exploring.