London to Venice by 1975 VW Camper Van May 2018
Well today’s stupid idea, agreed over too many beers, is to take some olde camper van to Venice so my sister Karen and her husband Graham can drive it back.
1975 VW Camper Van
Anyone that knows my hatred of driving will realise it took a lot of beer to convince me to do it. Hopefully the Duchess will drive and I will navigate. What can possibly go wrong? Well apart from my gps has just broken and the car alarm keeps going off. Oh and everything overtakes us.
The van was built in 1975, goes about 30 miles an hour, and has a steering wheel the size of a dustbin lid. Turning a corner is a bit like doing a hoola hoop exercise. Well the Duchess needs to loose a bit of weight.
Channel tunnel to France
We set off from Maidstone, Kent, on a sunny Friday morning, the world is a happy place, we are happy bunny rabbits, looking forward to lots of red French wine later. Through the tunnel and off to a sleepy village about 30Kms down the road. The main drive begins tomorrow. Ah smell those flowers, look at the lovely birds and animals in the fields.
Slow on Motorway
On the motorway we get overtaken by everything and people wave at us. I thought they were having a go at us for driving so slow, so I was giving them the middle finger (And other rude stuff) and swearing at them (As you do in Souff London), until I was told they are acknowledging and embracing the classic cultural of the VW camper. Whoops.
First stop on our way to Venice is a sleepy village named Helfaut, (Hell is prob a good word for the place!) just outside Saint Omer. Nice campsite, albeit we are the only people there camping as all the others are the semi resident, caravan owners.
Helfaut Saint Omer France
Quick walk around, nothing there. Quick walk into local village, all appears not only shut but shut down. Even the supermarket has closed its doors for the last time. We find a ‘hello hello’ type bar, then look for food.
After about an hour of everything being shut we find a patisserie and there is a cheese and tomato pizza. Back to site, couple of pre-dinner drinks in the campsite bar with the toothless locals, and back to our van to tuck into the pizza, that being the only food available. Luckily for me, unlucky for The Duchess, the tree hugging veggie, it also has ham in it. Fantastic. She had 2 tins of tuna we brought with us.
I think on this trip, instead of hotel views I will take photos of campsite toilets. The ones here are fairly open, and er, dirty.
Tomorrow, Saturday we shall drive all day in order to miss the UK Royal wedding!
VW for midgets
I am not sure if in 1975 people were built smaller! I know I was smaller but that was me growing up. I say this because the bed is built for midgets, possibly due to the current owners (And midgets) Karen and Graham. Either way dangling my toes in the chemical toilet, whilst good for my nails, is not a pleasant thing. Both me and The Duchess wake at various times of the night. My back hurts, and The Duchess has the hump, I assume because, not only is it Friday night domestic violence night, but also her ‘special night’ (The 2 are not connected!) and nothing can happen in the midget camper van.
Off we go
We are now awake and get up, and after a while of back stretching exercises, off on the road.
Changing gear in the bus is a bit like stirring a bucket of worms. To change into reverse unless you have arms about 7 feet long is difficult.
All is good until we stop the car in the petrol station.
And we stop!
We try to start the car, nothing! The locals are saying hello with their horns. Again nothing. We have an ignition light. I get the assistance of 5 dutch motor bike riders and the bumping procedure is undertaken, we start. We park up again, then nothing! More motorcyclists, more bumping, and we are off. Decision taken to get as far as we can, and stay in a hotel tonight, all whilst keeping the engine running. Even when re-fuelling. If in the event we stall or turn the engine off we shall be in bother.
At this rate I will be banned from the VW camper owners association. Oh dear what a shame!
Yet again everything is overtaking us, and giving us the real finger this time, as we hold everyone up going up the mountains.
We sometimes achieve 35 miles an hour going down hill (The whole trip is ‘going downhill’).
We get almost to the Swiss border and find a lovely looking hotel on a website. Oh how they lie! It appears to be an asylum centre for children. We debate about sleeping in the van for a millisecond.
Stop near Swiss Border
We stall the van across the entrance of the hotel. Cue 17 asylum seekers to help push the van into position. However we did find a nice restaurant. The room was ‘cosy’ and the toilet smelt of sick.
It is also about 10 feet from the local airport, at least The Duchess had the earth move that night, every 90 seconds!
We initially let ourselves into ‘our’ room and there are startled Dutch people already in it. I did note there were 4 of them in a 2 person room, swinging party perhaps? I am told by The Duchess to behave, and no, she doesn’t want to go swinging! We change rooms.
Close to Switzerland
Just to recap, in a drunken evening The Duchess and I agreed to take the 1975 VW Camper Van to Treviso Airport, Venice where my sister Karen and husband Graham can fly in, and drive home.
But the starter does not work.
I call Graham and he tells me there was a problem before with both starter motor and ignition switch.Now he tells me!! Just leave it for 2 hours and all will be ok.
We awaken and to be fair the hotel was awash with children on a football tour, not asylum seekers, but the hotel was still a toilet.
We pack, get into van, turn switch. Nothing, ningun, zilch!
Graham tells me to get underneath and hit the starter motor with a hammer. Even he thought this a bad idea for me.
DIY = Don’t Involve Yourself.
We call RAC European cover. I ring and they tell me the car has not been taxed since 1982. Therefore no cover! Various emails fly around and we have cover. Cue, Philpe the French Mechanic, and VW enthusiast.
French Mechanic, and VW enthusiast
He was all over the car taking photos, and loving it. I was going to give the blooming thing to him. He gets underneath, avec wire, it starts. Gives me the wire and tries to go home. I point out that if I turn it off it wont start. Answer is, “dont turn it off”. I turn it off, he realises it is the ignition switch. He then hot wires the car, shows me how to do it, takes a few more photos of the interior and he is off.
Hot wiring VW Camper van
We set off to the Swiss border. There is still a Swiss police presence at the Swiss/French border. We stop to get a motorway pass and stall the engine. We get the pass.
Swiss Border police
Swiss police are hovering around admiring the VW, (Which of course I told them I restored). I get the ‘hot wire’ out and work under the dashboard. Armed Swiss police are now showing an unhealthy interest in me ‘hot wiring’ a car that I don’t own. A few questions are asked, The Duchess shows off her legs and talks about when she had one of those big guns, they smile and ask if we want a push to the side to sort the engine out. I suggest a bump start. Result being we have 3 armed Swiss police officers bump starting the VW across the border. Engine starts, we wave, they wave. Happy days!
Through Switzerland we go. Even did the 17KM Gotthard Tunnel, through The Alps. Although we were worried we might stall in the middle of it. We did have the indignity of a car and caravan overtaking us!
Stopped at a lovely hotel just outside of Milan. We had a view of what looked like Chernobyl outside.
Pizza, red wine, bed. Fantastic. Nearly there.
Well here we are in Milan, stayed at a right posh hotel, and now we need to move on.
The thought of hot wiring any further cars in the near future is not on the agenda. Therefore we have decided that what was going to be a few days around Lake Garda has lost all it’s appeal and we need to go straight to the long term car park at Treviso Airport. The van has only been turned off twice in the last 2 days.
Whilst The Duchess is doing ‘girlie cleaning’ stuff in the back of the van, I am trying to remember which wire I have to cross to start it. Assuming if I get the wrong wire the classic VW will be a pile of old metal after the fire brigade have been (Oh how I wish, at this moment). The van starts, we are off. Normal rules apply, don’t turn engine off until we get there.
The Duchess tells me she is disappointed that after being brought up in Souff London, and going to Catford Boys School (Leaving with no qualifications, not even hot wiring) I should be great at starting other people’s cars without a key. Good point!
Treviso Airport Long term parking
The trip to the airport car park is uneventful. However, we get to the car park and to my horror it is one of those ones where you leave the key, and the attendant drives the car/van to its space on the complex. Can you see a problem here? This could be fun, everyone I have spoken to on this trip has spoken limited English. I wonder what ” Can you hot wire a car?” is in Italian. What is Hot wire in foreign?
Lets get Google translate out. I type in, “To use this van you have to hot wire it” get the Italian, then google translate into English to check the translation. It tells me, I quote ” To use this van you have to understand hot” Oh great!
Once the staff realise there is a problem they wheel out the 12 year old assistant. Fantastic he speaks English. I explain what has happened, “Just now outside the car park the ignition switch broke, I am so sorry, but it has just happened!” If I tell him it happened 600 miles ago, 3 countries away, they may not take it. As I am not allowed to drive the van to the final parking place I accompany the 12 year old. After telling me he has never driven such a van, especially as the steering wheel is the wrong side and the pedals are back to front, off we go. This could be fun. He stalls the car about 15 times, me hot wiring it whilst he drives. Eventually get into place and all is good.
Made it to Venice!
We are here in Venice until Sunday, on the beach, enjoy! They have an odd brand of red wine here.
Hitler Red Wine.
I just hope Karen and Graham don,t get ill and we have to drive the thing back!