Europe Tester Trip Blog (Jan-Apr 2014)

Summary of the Europe Tester-trip

Cuthbert in EuropeAll in all this ‘Tester-trip’ has been a great journey for us.  It has been a good opportunity to get to know Cuthbert (the vehicle formally known as ‘Truck’) properly and a great ski-tour, allowing us to ski all of the ski-countries in western Europe. Best of all however has been the chance to catch up with our friends across Europe, some of whom we haven’t seen for far too long!  Many thanks to Peter & Heike, PJ & Mags, Max & Uli, Mark & Lynsey, Alison & Gerome, Clive & Christine, Dave & Patti, and Klaus & Jasmine for their great hospitality over the last few weeks. Above is the map of the route.

We have had almost 8 weeks living in Cuthbert in Europe and have loved every minute of it (quite fortunate really as we plan to spend the foreseeable future this way!).  We have no doubt that we have chosen the right vehicle for our new lifestyle.  Cuthbert is extremely comfortable with very effective heating and cooling (fan-extraction);  good bathroom facilities (incl. hot water shower); and plenty of solar & battery power for all our computers and other gadgets (incl the ever-essential hair-dryer).  We are really looking forward now to taking him on to Africa and the real off-road conditions.

Regarding the finances for the Europe Tester-trip, we never really had any idea how much things would cost. Having been in the Middle East for the last 5 years, we were pretty out-of-touch with the real world so we never set ourselves a target budget as such. Due the extensive skiing, our  Tester-trip has not been a ‘low-budget-experience’ overall. However we have learned that the basic costs of travelling in Europe with a campervan are very reasonable. If you choose to enhance the experience with not-so-low budget activities such as skiing, then the total spend obviously increases, but it is perfectly possible to see the best of Europe on a budget. Overnight camper-stops are often free, or just a few Euros;  food is whatever you choose to pay in a supermarket; and fuel expense is obviously minimised if you travel at a slower pace and cover shorter distances each day.

Below is our detailed blog of the journey.

January 2014

January has been spent getting the truck registered in England (not as easy as you might think!!), loading and organising all our stuff into the truck (again, not such a simple exercise!), and travelling around UK having a great time visiting friends & family. This was all great fun and lovely to see everyone, but the weather in UK has been the wettest on record for many years; by the end of the month we couldn’t wait to get out of UK on our ‘tester trip’ to Europe.  In early Feb we will head for the croissants, bratwurst and ski-slopes…..

February 2014

We put the Truck in the Euro-tunnel train heading off on a trip around Europe to visit friends in various countries, do a bit of skiing and at the same time, thoroughly test the Truck.

We have read much about the European ‘Camping-car Aires‘ and we plan to test whether these are as good as reported! There are hundreds of these sites on the edge of villages all over France, Germany, Italy and other countries where self-sufficient campervans can park up for the night, either free of charge or for a minimal fee.  They are apparently often in very beautiful locations and there are several around the Alps in ski resorts!!  Hurrah!!

 

In the first week of the Euro-trip we :

  • checked out the water-proofing of the Truck with a storm-battered night on the coast of northern France;
  • moved on to Belgium and wandered around scenic Brugge;
  • visited our old stomping grounds in Germany where we lived 25 years ago;
  • went back to the manufacturer Bocklet (Koblenz, Germany) to have some pre-planned additions to the ‘on-board’ equipment;
  • had a lovely evening in Frankfurt with our new German friends and fellow Bocklet drivers;
  • visited the lovely Mags, PJ, Holly, Charlie and Eva in Leipzig.

We had for some time before the visit to Leipzig been wrestling with the decision of what to call the vehicle previously known as “Truck”.  Thanks to Mags’ inspired suggestion, we can now formally announce that Truck is now formally christened Cuthbert!

Moving onwards … Cuthbert took us south to Czech Republic and Prague – a new country and city for us.  As it is now in the EU there are obviously no border formalities. However there are different road-toll arrangements for vehicles over 3.5T and we had to stop at the ‘border’ to buy a bleeping (literally!) box to put on our front dashboard.  We paid a E60 deposit plus E20 for credit on the device.  At first we frankly had little faith in the system.  However a few days later after leaving the country and returning the device at the Czech exit point, we were forced to eat our words!  We promptly received back on our credit card both the deposit and the unused toll credit. Top chaps those Czechs!  Obviously we would prefer not to pay road tolls at all, but if we must…. we would give all due credit to the Czech system as being surprisingly efficient and transparent.  No doubt some Agent is now busy trying to make sense of our random rambling conversations in Cuthbert as we drove across the country! 🙂

Prague

Lovely day in Prague

For anyone who has not already been, Prague is a top-spot and very beautiful city.  We had a great time wandering around the old-town streets: admiring architecture, sampling beer and goulash.  Fab though it was, we headed on to Austria for the next visit to friends on our Euro-tour.

Way too dull to bore you with here, is the story of the road-toll system in Austria!  Suffice to say that it did not meet the standards of the Czech system and a ‘machine-failure-admin-faff’ delayed our progress at the ‘border’!  With tolls sorted, Cuthbert took us on to see Max and Uli near Linz for yet more great hospitality!

Inching closer to the target ski-resorts of the Austrian Alps, we next headed over to see another new city for us: Salzburg.  On a mid-way stopover Marcus noticed that Cuthbert might have a small oil leak from the rear diff.  Iveco in Salzburg gave great service: ordered the new ‘O-ring’ immediately and fixed it all under warranty first thing the next morning.  On the interim night we did our first ‘wild camp’ in the countryside near Salzburg.

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Cuthbert’s first wild-camp (near Salzburg)

Once Cuthbert’s ‘Iveco doctor’ gave him the ‘all clear’ we headed off to visit the famous Salt Mines – still en route to the ever-closer skiing!

Finally – very excited to arrive at Steinplatte (near Kitzbuhel) to have our first few days skiing.  Awesome snow and weather, but after a couple of days we wanted to explore more resorts. Cuthbert took us on a short drive further west to the ZillerTal valley near Innsbruck: more fabulous snow and conditions!  Great conditions for skiing continue over the weekend, however on Saturdays and Sundays the rather inconsiderate office workers of Salzburg, Munich and Innsbruck empty onto the ‘local Alps’ to over-crowd our ski-slopes!  Bit cheeky of them really when we have come all this way!

Luckily we can take a couple of days off skiing to rest our (not so young!) legs and stay off the crowded slopes.  We have now moved on to Germany for a bit of walking in Bavaria and found a fab riverside camp-spot just over the border from Austria. Marcus has started practicing his Go-Pro Phantom flying skills.

This video can also be seen on our You-tube channel http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FMzRGdFFFFs – pretty top-notch for a first attempt!  Watch this space for further video instalments as the Phantom flying skills develop!

On the Monday morning, once all the weekend’s city crowds are back sat at their desks, we left Garmisch-Partenkirchen and headed up the Zugspitz for some great skiing and even better views. It was a stunningly beautiful day without a cloud in the sky; from the top we could see all the way to Munich in the distance.  The skiing was also excellent with superb snow conditions, very few people and no lift queues!

Selfie on top of the Zugspitz

Selfie on top of the Zugspitz

One of the (many) great things we are loving about this ‘ski-tour’ is that we can pick and chose our days to ski!  Unlike our previous ski holidays when every day is a precious ski opportunity (regardless of conditions!), we can now be selective on our ski-days. If the conditions are anything less than perfect, we do something else and go back to ski when things look good!

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Castle

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Castle

Heading west from the Zugspitz, we visited Fussen to see the ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Castle’, then on to Lindau on the beautiful Bodensee. Here we were briefly pursued by a nice German couple who eventually caught up with us in a supermarket car-park to explain that they too have an Iveco Daily 4×4 campervan truck very similar to Cuthbert!  Klaus and Jasmin – if you get this far with the reading – we will stay in touch and hope to catch up with you later in the year!

Cuthbert's first shower

Cuthbert’s first shower

With all this driving, Cuthbert was starting to get a bit grubby.  So far we have not found a car-wash that could take a 3.3m high vehicle. However today was Cuthbert’s lucky day!  We happened to pass a truck-wash station and Cuthbert had his first shower, coming out looking far cleaner and shinier than he had done for a few weeks.

Parking on the piste

Parking on the piste

We have now decided to make this a mission to ski in all the countries of the Alps (and maybe also the Pyrenees if we can fit it in).  Having so far done Austria and Germany, we next decided to move on to that great skiing principality of Liechtenstein!!  We know it’s not exactly the ski-mecca of the world, but if we are going to do this ‘All-the-Alps ski-tour’, we need to include it.  On getting there we were pleasantly surprised.  Only a limited range of slopes, but the conditions were awesome!  We got there early (having parked Cuthbert for the night on the mountainside nearby), parked literally right on the edge of the piste and were on the very first chair-lift of the morning.  We had the freshly pisted slopes almost all to ourselves, and by 11:00am there were probably still only about 50-60 people on the pistes/lifts. No queues, blue skies and fantastic snow conditions!  Skiing doesn’t get better than this 🙂

The trips into the various mountain ranges and ski-resorts have allowed us to find out that Cuthbert loves going up steep hills, but is less happy on the descent!  Marcus has now mastered the engine-braking system to get us down the hills surely and safely; but as with most larger vehicles on steep declines, the speed can only range from “frustratingly slow” to “*#&$!*!frustratingly slow“.  This will no doubt be put to the test further in Switzerland tomorrow!

Some days on this ‘test trip’ have required a bit of hopping over EU borders; so far several times between Germany/Austria and back within the space of a few hours.  When we ‘hopped’ in and out Switzerland we were surprised by the absence of any border controls on some crossing points. Maybe they are no longer concerned about the black-market in holey-cheese.

From the Swiss edge of Lake Maggiore we aimed towards our next ski-venture in Verbier, heading across the stunning mountain passes between Locarno, Switzerland and Domodossola, Italy.  The road are extremely narrow, steep and winding with sheer drops off the side; an interesting driving experience with Cuthbert! In a hill-top Italian village mid-way along the pass, we looked for a small local bakers and cheese shop for lunch supplies. We had some success with this search, provided that Carrefour falls into the category of ‘small local trader’. As with Tesco in UK, there really is no corner of mainland Europe (or the Middle East for that matter) which is untouched by the Carrefour brand!

After the mountain pass and only a few hours in Italy, we queued to get on the Simplon Tunnel train. After over an hour’s wait, the Train Guard was then reluctant to let Cuthbert on the deck!  After much of his squinting eyes and hissing through teeth we (fearing a very long detour drive south of the mountains) lowered Cuthbert’s air suspension and squeezed under the vehicle height limit. Phew!

Back in Switzerland, arriving in Brig on the car-train, we steamed up the motorway to Verbier to meet our friends Mark and Lyndsey who were on holiday with their friends Jan and Rob.  Super-skier Rob led us on a superb tour of the ‘Verbier highlights’; the fabulous lunch was well worth the slightly scary track we had to ski down to reach the restaurant!

Chamonix the morning after the crossing from Switzerland

Chamonix the morning after the crossing from Switzerland

An excellent time in Verbier ticked-off the fourth ski-country of our ‘Alpine Ski-tour’. As the pass to Chamonix was open, we headed next to France. Actually the term “open” turned out to be a slight exaggeration; “barely passable if you have large 4×4 and a driver determined to test the capabilities of his new toy” would be a better description. Several cars were unable to make it up the snow covered road and were sliding into the ditches.  Crossing the pass involved us using Cuthbert’s diff-locks and all sorts of wizardry, with a speed of no more than around 10mph all the way across! Joy (not!).

March 2014

We had a day skiing on the French side of the Alps, ticking-off country number five; only Italy left to ski to get the ‘full set’ of Alps ski-countries!

Aiming for a break from skiing we headed across France to visit friends Alison, Gerome, Flynn and India, near Clermont Ferrand.  However there turned out to be a small ski-station at Chalmazel near Alison and Gerome’s home. They were heading there on day trips for the childrens’ half-term holiday, so we happily joined them for yet more skiing in lovely sunshine! We’re not sure if it’s possible to get bored of skiing, but we haven’t managed to achieve this yet.

Millau Bridge

Millau Bridge

Leaving the hills on a chilly -1°C morning, we headed south over the stunning Millau gorge bridge, down to the Mediterranean for a lovely afternoon walk on the beach near Perpignan in sunny 21°C!

 

 

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First morning on the Med. Can’t believe we actually got up for a walk on the beach to see sunrise! This kind of fool-hardy activity obviously will not be a regular occurrence.

Moving on around the Med coast and down into Spain we have spent a couple of days on the Costa Brava. On the plus side, the weather is stunning!  Warm sunshine and clear blue skies with not a cloud to be seen.  Also, we have thankfully found the areas that we have visited to be almost void of all traces of British tourism in the winter.  On the down-side, we have been totally gob-smacked by the volume of (mostly Dutch) white campervans touring the Med coast.  With only a small exaggeration, there are millions of these on the roads, in the park-ups, everywhere we look!  Parked-up amongst them, Cuthbert does stand-out slightly and gets a few odd looks!

Cuthbert goes to the seaside - in the harbour at San Feliu

Cuthbert goes to the seaside – in the harbour at San Feliu

Having grown up in Spain, Julie felt quite at home once we crossed over the border, particularly when we found good tapas and a San Miguel in San Feliu!   Sunday lunch of a great paella with a decent bottle of Rioja – sitting out in the sunshine by the port – brought back happy memories of years in Calpe during the ’70s and ’80s.

A trip into Cataluña would not be complete without some time in fabulous Barcelona – sitting in the street cafes on La Rambla, in the sunshine watching the world go by……  There may be a down-side to our new travelling lifestyle, but we haven’t found out what it is yet 🙂

Sagrada Familia still not finished after 130 years!!  Contractor's delay damages must be racking-up by now...

Sagrada Familia still not finished after 130 years!! Contractor’s delay damages must be racking-up by now…

Predictably, our good fortune in avoiding the mass British tourist trail ended in Barcelona – as evidenced by the bars selling pints of Guinness and the restaurant menus with sausage, egg and chips!

Barcelona is the furthest south that we plan to go on this ‘test trip’.   Now heading back north for visiting more friends and, if the snow holds out…. yet more skiing!!

Gaudi stuff

Gaudi stuff

 

Heading north from Barcelona and up to the Pyrenees for, yes… more skiing!  The snow reports of patchy conditions in the Spanish resorts were ‘spot-on’!  La Molina seemed a friendly little resort but the snow was, to put it politely, hideous!! The lovely sunny weather and warm temperatures had taken their toll on the slopes and the snow was of the thick, sloppy, ‘leg-breaker’ variety. It was a bit like skiing through one of those ‘slush-puppy’ drinks!  The Spanish ski experience was therefore limited, but we ‘got the tick in the box’ and are pleased that we managed to add Spain to our ‘ski-tour’ list.  Andorra can only be better than this!

La Pas de la Casa was the easiest Andorra resort for us to get to and had the best snow reports. On arriving we discovered that it is perhaps not the ‘classiest’ ski-resort in the world; it seems to place an equal priority on skiing and selling cut-price cigarettes! However the ski area was much larger than we expected and best of all, we were able to park Cuthbert at the side of the piste for another great ‘ski to the door’ opportunity. Snow was good and not a cloud in the sky, but the wind on the higher slopes was bitter. On the plus side, we managed to ski and get an ice-blast exfoliation facial, all at the same time – can’t grumble at that value for money!

Mirepoix

Mirepoix – town of expensive bread

We next headed down to lower altitudes to enjoy some warmer temperatures and to mooch around the scenic villages of southern France. The old medieval centre in Mirepoix is a highlight, spoiled only by the ridiculous price charged for bread in the local boulangerie (a policy no doubt invoked for tourists speaking French with ridiculous English accents)!

Swapping the wheels around to even up the wear

Swapping the wheels around to even up the wear

As the weather was great we decided to take an ‘admin day’; a day off from the arduous task of travelling and exploring, to catch-up on routine stuff.  Marcus wanted to rotate Cuthbert’s tyres (to even-up the wear between each of the wheel-tyres and the spare tyre) and at the same time install some balancing beads in the tyres.  If you are interested in more detail on this ‘techie stuff’ see the ‘Balancing Bead’ page (under the ‘Truck and Kit’ tab).

A big torque wrench for a big nut ;-)

A big torque wrench for a big nut 😉

 

 

Moving on north, we next went to visit our friends Clive, Christine, Alexandre and Guillaume near Toulouse for a couple of days. Yet more fabulous hospitality from our lovely friends – thanks guys!

Leaving Toulouse and heading towards the Med-coast, our sat-nav Wallace (we chose Garmin’s ‘Wallace & Grommit’ option for our sat-nav voice: “…keep on this route, unless you see a cheese shop…”) directed us south-east towards Montpellier.  After a night-stop by the beach, we followed the coast towards Monaco.

Cuthbert does Monte Carlo!  Unfortunately the photo-opportunity of Cuthbert by the Casino did not materialise.

Cuthbert does Monte Carlo! Unfortunately the photo-opportunity of Cuthbert by the Casino did not materialise.

 

Unfortunately Monte Carlo is not a town well-disposed to camper-trucks and we could find nowhere to park Cuthbert. Our mission to take a picture of Cuthbert in front of the famous Casino was scuppered by some chaps from Prada who were hosting an event and had fenced-off the whole area; rather inconsiderate of them seeing as we had come all that way for the photo opportunity! By way of small compensation for the disappointment, Cuthbert did at least get to drive on part of the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix race circuit!

With Cuthbert’s Monte Carlo photo-mission aborted, we headed around the coast into Italy. Neither of us has spent much time in Italy before and our first impression of this part of Italy confirmed our previous ‘first impression’ from our brief mountain crossing to Switzerland a few weeks ago: ‘beautiful country, lousy roads!’. The state of the roads in Italy certainly seems to mirror the state of the economy.

We had planned to spend most of this Euro-trip avoiding motorways and sticking to local roads, however the quality of the Italian road network made it rather challenging to adhere to this policy!  From the border we aimed to get past Genoa to the Porto Fino peninsula for a night stop. Had we followed the coast-road through the road-works, pot-holes and never-ending town traffic, we would probably still be on that road today.  It soon became clear that the autostrada toll-roads are the only way to cover any distance around Italy.  We also realised, but at a point slightly too late to be useful, that diesel is significantly more expensive in Italy than in France. With hindsight it would have been a good plan to fill our secondary 110 litre fuel tank before crossing into Italy.

After a good night-stop on a hillside in the Porto Fino national park, including a very pleasant sunset beer on the cliffs, we headed south and in-land towards our target skiing destination: the Alto Appenino mountains.  After a few route-detours due to land-slide road collapses (see the above note comparing the Italian roads with the Italian economy!), we progressed further into the mountains which were looking suspiciously brown for a ski region. The minimal snow was a mere scattering on the highest rocky crops and our planned Italian ski experience was looking increasingly unlikely.  We climbed onwards to the resort of Anatone and miraculously, in a hidden bowl, high above the village, we saw a network of lifts and plenty of the much sought-after snow!  Temperatures were too warm to maintain a good quality snow in the later afternoon, but by morning the conditions had firmed-up. It proved to be a nice little ski area and, for our ‘short-stop’ purpose, an interesting alternative to the more commonly visited Italian Alps.

Over the last few days driving in France and Italy, Marcus had started to notice a significant improvement in Cuthbert’s engine power. During the drive to Anatone, Cuthbert passed his first ‘10,500 km mark’ and Marcus took the opportunity to look at the fuel figures for the last few weeks. These showed that coincidental with the increase in engine power at around the 9,000km mark, there had been an improvement of around 12% in Cuthbert’s fuel economy.  Not only is Cuthbert now zooming with ease down the autostradas alongside his Italian Iveco cousins, but he is doing so at an average of over 20 mpg – not bad for a 5.5t overland truck!  To borrow the words of a well-known UK supermarket chain….”Every little helps!

Aiming back to the warmer, lower ground we headed to that major tourist hot-spot on every Italian tour itinerary: the Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Inside the tower feels as slopey as it looks and it is a weird sensation to climb up the internal spiral staircase of a leaning building.  As a comparator for the benefit of our friends in Qatar, the Leaning Tower of Pisa experience is not dissimilar to being in some of the towers in Doha’s West Bay (which will no doubt soon be leaning at a similar angle to the Pisa Tower once the Metro tunnelling gets underway!).

The only building in the world which leans more than the towers in Doha's West Bay!

The only building in the world which leans more than the towers in Doha’s West Bay!

Cuthbert as seen from the top of the Leaning Tower (clearly Pisa has a better policy than Monaco for parking overland trucks)

Cuthbert as seen from the top of the Leaning Tower (clearly Pisa has a better policy than Monaco for parking overland trucks)

At the top of the sloping tower

At the top of the sloping tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next stop just down the road from Pisa was  cultural extravaganza in Florence. A lovely city with lots to see, but the tourist crowds and queues make Covent Garden look like a village fete on a rainy day!  We persevered in a half-hour queue to get into the Duomo Cathedral, and then another hour’s queue to climb up inside the Duomo Cupola. This long wait was worthwhile for us, but probably not so worthwhile for the poor chap immediately in front of us, whose wife decided on (finally!) entering the building that the staircase was too small and insisted that they immediately left!!

View from the top of the Duomo Cupola – worth the 1 hr wait and the climb

Stunning though the buildings and architecture of Florence are, we are not particularly ‘arty people’ and the extensive galleries and sculptures were of limited interest to us. Of much more interest for us was the fascinating Gallileo Museum, documenting his scientific works and interesting displays on the history of navigation, mapping, astronomy and timekeeping. Its amazing how all the historical ground work in these fields over hundreds of years, has culminated in the modern-day Garmin (‘Wallace and Grommit’) sat-nav that we now have on Cuthbert’s dash-board for instant mapping around Africa!

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Bit of culture in Florence – high up inside the Duomo Cupola

 

 

 

 

 

Our next stop was a visit to Leonardo’s home in the heart of Tuscany.  It looked as though it was probably a picturesque village in spectacular countryside, however that Sunday was our first rainy and grey day in a long time and it was therefore not shown in its best light for photo opportunities.  The Leonardo museum disappointingly made no reference to ‘Titanic’ or ‘Wolf on Wall Street’ 🙂 but the display of da Vinci’s inventions was an interesting afternoon out. After this we headed north towards Verona and found a convenient site for a wild-camp night-stop in the countryside outside Bologna.

Marcus had noticed that we had a small oil leak from the front differential. This was not unexpected as we had had the same problem for the rear differential, fixed by Iveco in Saltzburg a few weeks ago. We decided that Verona would be a good place to have the front diff fixed, and the service provided by Iveco Verona was as good as the service we had received from Iveco Salzburg.  So far we have been very pleased with the Iveco warranty service that we have received. Arguably, we should not have had to have these items fixed on a brand-new vehicle. However given that the vehicle had, since delivery from Iveco to Bocklet in February 2013, spent 11 months static in a workshop being converted to become a camper-van, it is only to be expected that a few things like oil seals can perish with lack of use. Other than these minor issues, Cuthbert has provided ‘top notch’ service on this test-trip (11,500 km so far).

Verona sky-line (getting the hang of the 'panorama feature' on the camera!)

Verona sky-line (getting the hang of the ‘panorama feature’ on the camera!)

Pleasant little pond - Lake Garda

Pleasant little pond – Lake Garda

Whilst waiting for Iveco Verona to order the required replacement oil seal, we enjoyed some time around Lake Garda and sightseeing in Verona. Much is made in the city of the ‘Romeo & Juliet’ connection but the Capulet house and the legendary balcony is a bit of a disappointment. Nevertheless, Verona is a lovely city to visit and, as we found, a good place to sample local wines and pizzas!

Verona's Mr Kipling - maker of  'exceedingly good biscuits' !

Verona’s Mr Kipling – maker of ‘exceedingly good biscuits’ !

‘Juliet on the balcony’ taken by Marcus from amongst a crowd of Japanese tourists below!

 

 

Our next stop was Bergamo where we visited our friends Dave and Patti.  The whole Marinoni family made us extremely welcome and showed us the generous home-hospitality for which Italian families are famous!

From Bergamo the route was heading north through Europe slowly back towards UK. However this route required us to once more cross the Alps.  Approaching the mountains again, we felt the need to address our ski-withdrawal symptoms .  We had received a tip from our camper-van builder (Gabriel at Bocklet) that Livigno was particularly well set-up for camper-vans and a good ski resort, so we headed up that way.  We arrived to find a great camp-spot with superb views over the resort. We also found a bar at the bottom of one of the lifts with a group of young Brit lads outside, slightly the worse for a few après-ski beverages, cheering Cuthbert as we drove past!

April 2014

April Fools’ Day started with some great skiing on the northern side of the Livigno valley.  We were enjoying the good conditions and the range of red-runs on the top-half of the mountain, when Marcus caught an edge of his ski and fell, banging his head heavily on the ground. He was wearing a helmet, but the impact was still sufficient to make him feel dazed and require medical attention. The emergency-skidoo-chap was called and, cutting a long story short, he was first x-rayed in the resort A&E Clinic, then transferred by ambulance to the regional hospital at Sondalo for a further head-scan.  Surprisingly, they did actually find a brain in there and thankfully they found no serious damage.  Although a bit shocked and bruised, Marcus made a good recovery over the next few days. Anyone who has skied with us on previous holidays will know that Marcus is a ‘more than reasonably competent’ skier and doesn’t generally make a habit of falling off his skis. The conclusion must therefore be reached that he engineered this extreme situation to get a free ride on a skidoo; unfortunately he can’t remember it J.

One of the ‘side-shows’ to Marcus’s accident was that, whilst he was taken with a flashing blue light over 60 km to the main hospital, Julie had to drive Cuthbert on her own, down the steep, winding mountain road from Livigno to Soldano!  Anyone who paid attention to our story some weeks ago, of taking Cuthbert down the mountainside of Lichtenstein, will be aware that he is much happier chugging steadily up hills than he is on steep descents.  For a 5.5t truck, engine-braking is required instead of using the normal brake-pedal to slow down.  It is not generally recommended that this technique is attempted for the first time whilst racing to hospital to see your husband having emergency scans!  With apologies to the local Italian drivers who seemed to patiently tolerate Cuthbert’s erratic descent around the hair-pin bends, Cuthbert and Julie arrived safely at the hospital shortly before Marcus was discharged with a warning from the doctors about resting and no further skiing for a while!

So our skiing activity is now well and truly over for the rest of this season. We can’t grumble at the fabulous ski-experiences we have had this winter: at the final count, we have skied 11 resorts in 8 different countries in mostly excellent weather and snow conditions. Ski-touring in this style can be highly recommended!

On our way back north, we transited through Switzerland, past St Moritz and over the stunning

A Beautiful day looking down the Julier Pass

A Beautiful day looking down the Julier Pass

Julier Pass down towards Lichtenstein, briefly through the corner of Austria (carefully avoiding their ridiculously high motorway tolls) and to the Bodensee in Germany. We had decided to drop in for a quick visit to see Klaus and Jasmin (the new German friends that we made when last in Lindau – see above ….). On arrival at their restaurant, we established not only that their restaurant is attached to a lovely lake-shore camp-site, but that the camp-site was hosting a ‘Land Rover Meet’ that weekend, with over 160 Land Rovers and ‘over-landers’ booked in!  We didn’t need much encouragement from Klaus and Jasmin to stay for a couple of days.  We parked Cuthbert alongside two earlier generation Iveco Daily 4×4 Campers so that he could learn about his ancestral heritage!

Cuthbert parked-up with older generations of Daily 4x4

Cuthbert parked-up with older generations of Daily 4×4

Some of the 160 Land Rovers and over-landers parked-up for the 'Meet'

Some of the 160 Land Rovers and over-landers parked-up for the ‘Meet’

Interesting German overlander parked-up at Lindau. The back-cab is over 50 years old, now sat on its third chassis!

Interesting German overlander parked-up at Lindau. The back-cab is over 50 years old, now sat on its third chassis!

Another highlight of our stay there was enjoying Klaus’ delicious food in their restaurant, Strandhaus (see www.strandhaus.li).  We learned that Klaus is something of a celebrity chef in Germany with his own show on regional TV: “Winter Grillt”.  He specialises in high quality BBQ and wood-oven cooking, creating amazing dishes with long-slow roasting of pork, beef and lamb served with a great range of home-made sauces and salads. If you are ever passing through the beautiful Lindau/Bregenz area on the Bodensee, do drop by the Strandhaus and try these for yourself.

After (yet again!) eating and drinking far too much excellent food and wine with our friends, we continued heading north through Germany past Ulm and Stuttgart.  Over the last week or so, our plans for Africa and shipping Cuthbert have been coming together (see the ‘Planning for Africa’ tab) and we headed to Frankfurt to meet with Peter and Heike to discuss details for our joint shipping arrangements.

After a generous helping of Heike’s tasty kirch streusel-kuechen (cherry crumble cake) and an afternoon making plans for shipping and Africa, we finished the weekend with a drive up to Koblenz ready for a Bocklet visit on Monday morning.  Cuthbert was having a few final minor adjustments and whilst the chaps were working on him, Gabriel kindly lent us the Bocklet courtesy car for a run into town.  It is difficult to imagine a vehicle more different to Cuthbert than the electric ‘dodgem car’ that we took into central Koblenz, but it was…… an experience!  Great fun for a short drive and amazingly easy to find a parking space!!

Marcus in "Cuthbert No.2" - fun drive around Koblenz for the day

Marcus in “Cuthbert No.2” – fun drive around Koblenz for the day

The final leg of the Euro-Test Trip is now back across Belgium and France to Calais for the Euro-tunnel to England.

On the way back across Belgium we stopped for an interesting visit to the Waterloo battle ground. There is no specific monument to the victorious Wellington, but the loser had his own special statue by the roadside.

Monument at Waterloo..... The Looooser!!

Monument at Waterloo….. The Looooser!!

Now back in UK, we have 2 weeks to:

  • drop-off our skis and winter gear;
  • pick-up the Africa gear and fine-tune the organisation/fit-out in Cuthbert;  and
  • make some final visits to family and friends who have yet to meet Cuthbert.

At the end of April we will then finally head back to Germany to hand Cuthbert over to the shippers and put him on his long voyage to South Africa!

Further excitement and tales of  ‘derring do’ will hopefully emerge with the new ‘Africa Adventure’ when we arrive in South Africa to collect Cuthbert at the end of May!  Watch the Africa Blog page for more news.Europe Route