To say we encountered more than we bargained for - after waving Yorkshire goodbye on a bitter October night for a European motor home trip - is a wild understatement.
Fairly seasoned travellers by train, sea and air, aswell as many years of caravaning, motor homing was a new quest as we set sail for Calais in high spirits with an overexcited golden retriever.
Our initiation in the motor home - a weekend in Scarborough - had hardly been extensive.
Bracken travelling in a cage at the back of the camper van also took some getting used to.
With wheels on French soil at Calais, our first stop was Epernay - the Capital of Champagne - which turned out to be not so ‘merveilleux’.
Parking in the town centre, where the renowned 'Avenue de Champagne’ was located, was a nightmare due to height restrictions and incomprehensible (even to the French) rules regarding parking overnight.
We skipped camping - the weather was brutal - and squashed into a small hotel room with a wet and smelly Bracken (l’eau de chien!).
Winter Wild Camping
An attempt to set off for the town of Chablis was derailed by the motor home refusing to start. Copious phone calls and a visit from a mechanic, we hit the road three hours behind schedule.
We’d heard the term ‘wildcamping’ - which means exactly that - parking without any electricity or water - but didn’t expect to be doing it quite so soon.
While invoking romantic images of sun soaked beaches, lulled to sleep with the soporific sound of waves, our bleak reality was a wet and pitch black car park just outside Chablis.
As the rain incessantly lashed down I lay awake most of the night tying to remember exactly why we were doing this?
Piping hot breakfast croissants and coffee from a local bakery went some way to cheer us the next morning.
Chablis is very picturesque with medieval houses and quaint streets packed with charm. We participated in a couple of wine tastings and purchased the obligatory bottles of Petite Chablis and a special Premier Cru.
Unexpected Seaside Stop
Our next planned stop had been unearthing the medieval roots of Perpignan.
More city centre parking height restrictions saw us circle the town several times in the dark before driving to the nearest seaside resort - Canet-en-Roussillon - on the premise that it was November there would surely be somewhere to stop.
A fabulous pet-friendly hotel called Hôtel et Restaurant Le Galion Canet Plage gave us a wonderful deal, and we partied with the ‘très amical’ locals over the weekend. Two days later we headed for Spain and Girona’s Gothic churches and Medieval walls.
Lure of the City (Car Park!)
We’d earmarked a car park for camper vans and caravans in the heart of the Catalonian city for 12 euros a night with water, electricity and wifi - although it took some finding.
Surrounded by tenement blocks, our two night stay was colourful - particularly the locals loudly and passionately discussing politics, on their balconies, in a hotspot of the campaign for Catalonia’s independence.
Compelling and rich in history - did you know Girona Cathedral was the backdrop for season six of Game of Thrones - we savoured the city’s culture.
Sitges: Beware thieves and pickpockets
Two hours away from the city hustle and bustle was the coastal town of Sitges - 42 kilometres south of Barcelona. Here we stayed at a car park (recommended on our app) at a stunning location overlooking a beautiful beach.
Everything was going swimmingly - we were enjoying the late autumn sunshine and coastal walks into the town which every summer hosts the Sitges Gay Pride event.
Situated just 500 yards from the local port police portable cabin and 100 yards from the Hotel Estela Barcelona - Hotel del Arte where we bought meals and snacks - what could possible go wrong?
Our plans and dreams were shattered by a rude awakening at 4am when the motor home was broken into - while we were asleep - and a bag with all our passports (including the dog’s), credit cards and money were stolen by an intruder.
There were two camper vans parked either side of us - one of whom had an ipad stolen - presumably by the same malicious thief. We have since heard from many sources that Sitges is a hotbed for pickpockets and opportunists.
Our first port of call was the hotel to ask for helping in contacting the police. To our further distress they refused to even open the door to assist us despite seeing our predicament.
We went to the port police who alerted the local police and walked in a daze to the police station where the enormity of the nightmare sunk in.
Having been on the road for just 12 days, our first inclination was to try to get back to the UK and suburbia.
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