Europe by Peugeot (Almost)
In October 1996 we decided to take a driving and camping trip around Europe to explore the opportunities to expand burgeoning business activities. We did a lot of research using the Internet, libraries and contacts built up over many years and (foolishly) felt fully prepared when we set off on 19 June 1998.
We flew to London via Hong Kong and, despite the long flight, were wide-awake when we landed at about 6am local time. Cathay Pacific and Hertz kindly provided us with a Fiat Punto and we began two weeks of touring around Britain.
We went to Bath and Oxford, Chester and the Lake District. We headed down the motorway at a sedate pace and spent a glorious few days in London. We had intended to stay longer in Britain but two weeks of pouring rain took its toll and we called Sodexa in Paris and arranged to collect our Peugeot 406 Turbo Diesel early, and flew to Paris. We enjoyed our two weeks in England despite the uninspiring transport, appalling food and the wettest June since 1860.
We landed in Paris on a Friday, expecting to collect our Peugeot at Charles de Gaulle airport. It wasn't there and we were told that it would be ready on Monday morning. It wasn't practical to camp without the secure storage provided by the car so we retired, somewhat disgruntled, to a luxurious no-star hotel in the north of Paris. Fortunately, Paris is a very seductive place so we soon forgot our woes and basked in the experience of just being there. We collected the car late on Monday, after a very frustrating day waiting around. We had originally intended to drive out of Paris, but we had fallen in love with the place and wanted to see more. So we headed into the frenetic Paris traffic, to the camping ground at the Blois de Boulogne and stayed another 10 days.
After we had our fill of Paris we stopped off at Versailles and then headed up to the Normandy coast to see the wonderful Mont St Michel and on to the Loire Valley and the dreamlike Chateau Chambord. We drove through the Dordogne with its wonderful rock walls and extraordinary houses that appeared to be carved out of the rock, and through the Languedoc to Carcassonne. We passed through Provence to the coast, and headed up to the glorious French Alps.
We saw all of Switzerland - from the highest mountain passes to its beautiful lakes - and drove through the incredible Dolomites to Venice - a truly wonderful place. We headed up through the eastern part of Austria through Bavaria to Munich and on up the Romantic Road to Frankfurt. We went to the Black Forest (for a rest) and then up the Rhine to the Dutch border. We drove through Holland and Belguim to Calais and then crossed the English Channel and drove up to Cambridge. We went to Edinburgh and Glasgow and then spent a glorious fortnight in London. We spent our last weekend in Paris when we dropped off the Peugeot (16,500 km on the clock) and then flew to London and back home with a stopover in Hong Kong.
But what did we experience?
- The excitement of owning a new Peugeot 406. Not for us just a car to drive to work and park in the garage - this one would take us on all the highways and byways of Europe, whatever our whim. And it met this challenge without missing a beat. It was comfortable and powerful with incredible fuel economy, averaging 6 litres per 100k.
- Taking an hour to pitch our tent for the first time in Bath, while reading the instruction book and consuming a bottle of red wine, and the joy of falling into bed in our own little home.
- The shock of discovering that the controls for a camp ground shower consisted of a button which, when pushed, allowed water to fall for 5-30 seconds at a pre-determined temperature, and the knowledge that this is what it would be like for the next three months. In fact the most popular topic of conversation among campers was how to beat the bloody button.
- Having to pitch our tent in our hotel room in Paris to dry out, because we had pulled it down in the pouring rain when we left London. We crept up and down the stairs of the hotel trying to avoid the bemused gazes of the manager and the chamber maid.
- Exploring every nook and cranny up and down the mountain at Mont St Michel. It has the most interesting winding little streets, which either lead nowhere or into a perfect little courtyard with stairs that lead further up the mountain. The view at the top is magnificent.
- Discovering that every town in France has "Toutes Directions" signs which lead you through the town with great ease and peel you off at a well sign posted roundabout at the other end. Navigation in France is incredibly easy.
- Sitting outside our tent at dusk at a camp ground down in a valley in a little village in Austria with the mountains soaring around us and the melodious sound of the alpine horns off in the distance. A perfect moment.
- Exploring Venice. Wandering through the back streets and watching the locals leaning out of their third storey windows talking to their neighbours across the canal. It's full of lovely old crumbling buildings, painted in beautiful colours with the canals lapping around their lower floors, and exquisite little bridges everywhere.
- The sheer exhilaration of driving down the autobahn between Munich and Freiberg at up to 200km/hr and knowing (or hoping) it was perfectly legal.
- Sitting in Trafalgar Square, covered in liberally pooping pigeons.
- The finest science and technology museum in the world - The Deutsches Museum in Munich.
- The Peugeot Factory Tour and Museum at Sochoux, seeing rolls of sheet metal changed into 406s.
Life has been a bit flat since we returned. Suddenly our rather narrow view of the world has been blown wide open by our new experiences, and all we can think about is how we can get back there as soon as possible.
Bill McNamee and Geraldine Butler