Billy the Bus's Blog

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Big Billy Trip 21 - Brugges, Belgium to home

Route - Brugges, Belgium to Home!
Distance - 283km (final total = 4,317km = 2682 miles)



And so that's it! I'm home. I visited some cash n carrys and the big Cite Europe shopping centre in Calais before I left, but basically hurried on home. Here's the map that shows my entire trip. 2600 miles in 3 weeks. It was brilliant!

Big Billy Trip 20 - Brugges

Big Billy Trip 20 - Brugges

Decided not to rent a bike in the end, because it was raining. Went into the city and went to the Fries museum, the chocolate museum, two pubs, a pancake house, and a bunch of shops. Nice day




Big Billy Trip 19 - Bockholtz, Luxembourg to Brugges, Belgium

Route – Bockholtz, Luxembourg to Brugges, Belgium via Brussells
Distance - 304km (4,034km total)

These last few stretches are all seeming to go very quickly. Probably a combination of flatter terrain and me being more used to driving long distances.

I awoke in a really misty foggy Luxembourg this morning, and had the mystery of working out which house on the farm was the home of the campsite owner; I had to pay her, and ask her how the showers worked. They were token showers, but the tokens she used were old Belgian 5F coins, so I had to get one from her little tin. She was very sweet, and didn't even realise I'd come back to stay at her place – she assumed I would've found somewhere else near the castle. I did think about it, but her place was in the direction I was travelling, and it was a sweet little place rather than one of these holiday park affairs.

IMG_2450.JPGThe sun burnt the fog away fairly quickly, and the road to Brussells was uneventful. I got there around lunchtime, and just wanted to park up somewhere for a couple of hours to get some food and have a mooch around (I'd heard it was fairly boring, as cities go). I found a multistorey, but misjudged the height limit. It said 1.9m, which I know is right on the boundary of Billy's height, but I chanced it anyway. Mistake. I've got some nice red scratches on the roof now, from the red and white striped pole thing they have hanging at the entrance to show the height limit. Ah well, at least it was that rather than a concrete ceiling. Hopefully it will rub out with some t-cut.

So in the end I found somewhere to park on the street, then found a chippy, then found a fancy old building or two, then found a waffle shop. All good. Back on the road for Brugges.

IMG_2453.JPGI've learnt you can get a feel for a city fairly soon upon arriving, and I decided even on the ring road that I really liked Brugges. Maybe it was the guzillion kids on bicycles that crossed in front of me when I was at a red light? It just feels really nice here. I got the bus into town from the campsite, and had a wander around, and then some Moules Frites for me dinner. On the bus back, I made friends with a couple who were visiting as part of their gap year – I gave them a copy of the Alan Rogers PDF to help them on their travels. The whole city and its people and its visitors just seem really laid back.

So I'm going to stay another day, and I'm going to rent a bike tomorrow, and cycle all over. Huzzah. One last night here, than it's off to Calais for the 14.20 on Saturday afternoon. I think I'll go via some hypermarkets on the way back, for some booze and sweets and things. Fun.

Big Billy Trip 18 - Esch to Bockholtz, via Luxembourg City

Route – Esch to Luxembourg City to Bockholtz
Distance - 72km (3730km total)

Today was a much better day than yesterday! I did lots of driving again, but instead of it being about covering distance, I drove around this really nice country just soaking it all up.

IMG_2408.JPGI had read nice things about the capital, so I headed there for lunch time. It is indeed a really nice place, very cosmopolitan feel, lots of people of different ages and different backgrounds all doing their own thing. I saw the ruins of the original castle (the reason Luxembourg became a place) and the caves underneath it, then had a sarnie.

IMG_2413.JPGI also liked Luxembourg City because the whole of it is one big WiFi hotspot. It's the future. So I sat on a bench as they cleared up the flower market, and uploaded a few photos and stuff.

Next I drove North, trying to find the fairytale Chateau I'd read about. My map is poor on detail, and the one in the Lonely Planet was no better, so I did quite a bit of driving around in circles to find it. But it was such lovely driving, I didn't mind at all. I also found a campsite to stay at, on the way to the castle, which is a bonus. The castle itself was nice enough, but mainly because of the nice views from the top of the pigeon-poo-encrusted tower.

IMG_2440.JPGMy new favourite road in the world is the Luxembourg N27. I only found it by accident, but it is so much fun. It's fairly flat for starters, which is good for Billy, but it sweeps around, following the flow of the lake in the bottom of this valley. At one point, you cross the river on a wooden bridge, take a sharp left, and then re-cross the river almost immediately back to the other side. If you were designing a fun race track, it would be a bit like this. If I lived round here, I'm sure I'd be doing time trials on it, like I used to on the A60 Lboro to Nottingham.

IMG_2432.JPGNot even 10pm yet, but I'm in bed. It's the easiest way to keep warm. I would definitely not do this trip any later in the year than this. The cold is just about manageable, but I can understand why 30 Sept is generally seen as the close of the camping season. Italy was hot and lovely, but you can't really avoid several days in the colder North to get there can you.

So two nights left after this – I think one near Brussells and one near Bruge. I may as well drive Bruge to Calais on Saturday morning – no point staying a night in the mingy North of France if I can avoid it. Night! x

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Big Billy Trip 17 - Stollhoffen, Germany to Esch, Luxembourg

Route – Stollhoffen, Germany to Esch, Luxembourg
Distance - 273km (3658km total)

Really very uneventful day. Got up. Drove to Baden Baden to see what that was all about (kinda posh, full of tarts with little dogs, I walked around some shops for a bit and found some free wifi). Then I drove to Luxembourg. I had a Burger King on the way (omm).

IMG_2400.JPGI decided not to plump or another night in Germany in the end. I think I'll visit Luxembourg City tomorrow daytime, and stay at another campsite in the north of this wee country tomorrow, before heading into Belgium.

IMG_2407.JPGNeed to make sure that I actually DO something on these last few days of this trip. It could very easily just be about getting home and killing time between now and my ferry on Saturday. That would be a sad way to end a good holiday.

Big Billy Trip 16 - Munstertal to nr. Stollhoffen, Baden, via Titisee

Route – Munstertal to nr. Stollhoffen, Baden, via Titisee
Distance - 176km (3385km total)

I'm having a problem with Germany. I find the language too funny. I can't stop seeing words and pronouncing them to myself in a cod-German voice, slightly high pitched and urgent, and making myself giggle. Maybe it's too much Allo Allo as a kid. Add to that unfortunate sexual double entendre (such as the place I visited today, called Titisee) and I find I'm just walking around laughing at my host country. Not good.

My other observation so far is that the 'working leisure' hair cut is alive and well in Germany, as is the rat tail. Rock on.

(Oh, and the word for exit is Ausfart. Tee hee. Ahem)

IMG_2358.JPGI drove around the Black Forest today, taking lots of photos and stuff. I had intended to drive to several little Black Forest villages, to really suck up the atmosphere, but the driving was so arduous (Billy doesn't really like hills) that I only went to Titisee, then headed for the motorway. It was 3pm by then, so it was the right thing to do.

IMG_2364.JPGIt's all fairly picture postcard, but also all has the feel of being quite tacky. I'm certain that's unfair, and that we've taken the heritage of this place and plastered it across so many things for the last 100 Christmases, that its our fault not theirs, but it does leave a lasting impression. In fact, a lot of Titisee did just make me feel Christmassy – maybe it was the wooden toys and things for sale, it as all very 'visiting German craft market'. All I bought was some shnitzel (tee hee) and some little bottles of booze to try. Might buy some of the Kirschwasser tomorrow, cause it tastes pretty good with coke.

OK geeky campervanny bit now, turn off if you're not interested. I'm having real problems with my leisure battery. I bought it anew before the trip, because the last one had karked it (or had it, I now wonder?). It is 75aH, so plenty big enough for an evening of DVD watching or accessory charging, I thought. I have a 300W power invertor, so I can plug in mains powered devices – I have a DVD player, a 14” screen, and a socket for charging this laptop and other things. The invertor has a cut-off alarm, to stop you flattening your battery, and it starts beeping when the battery reads 10.5V. At the moment, it is doing this after about 90 minutes usage, which is a bit shit. By my calculations, I'd have had to be drawing 50A for the battery to be flat in this time (which obviously I haven't been; there's a 25A fuse!). So I'm a bit confused.

My dad has suggested there's perhaps a voltage drop-off between the battery and the Invertor, causing it to read 10.5V before that's actually the case. I will do some investigating along these lines when I get home, but my voltmeter at the fusebox also reads 10.5V, and anyway I wouldn't expect to be losing so many volts from long wiring and poor connections. Even with the TV (5A) and DVD (2A) on, and the laptop charging (2A), I would expect the battery to last at least 8 hours. Maybe my idea of alive and the invertor's (10.5V = dead) are different?

The other thing that's weird is that after the invertor has beeped at me, I turn it off, and the voltmeter starts to slowly creep back up. Before long, it's at 12.5V again, but as soon as I turn the invertor back on it slowly falls back down to 10.5V over about three minutes. Is this normal?

One thing I think I will definitely invest it for 'next time' is a mains voltage hookup kit. Not to charge the battery necessarily, but just so I can run a cable into the van to run mains-powered devices. I could even have it plug into the cupboard that contains the invertor, and have a bypass switch so my devices get their power from the outside source instead.

IMG_2399.JPGOK, geeky campervan bit over now. Tomorrow I'm going to drive North and West, into the bit of Germany that borders Luxembourg. Think I'll spend one more night in Germany, before heading to Lux the day after. Night night!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Big Billy Trip 15 - Lungern, Switzerland to Munstertal, Germany

Route – Lungern, Switzerland to Munstertal, Germany
Distance - 248km (3,209km total)

Switzerland continue to live up to its reputation for loveliness this morning. I awoke from a bitterly cold night's sleep, and couldn't even bring myself get out of bed, so lay in and watched a couple of episodes of The Wire on my iPod. By ten, the sun was poking above the mountain, and I could hear Billy creaking as the cold body work started to warm up. I poked my head out of the sliding door, and watched steam rising off the side of the van, as the sun baked and defrosted the metal. Fun.

I took it appropriately easy this morning. I took advantage of the sunshine to dry off the rear bed cushion, which was still damp from the Italian rain, and cooked some toast and eggs whilst gradually packing the van up to leave. It was then I noticed the cable car running up the mountain; I'd seen in the night before, and assumed it was closed as a summer thing. So, this helped me decide what to do next.

IMG_2323£12 to climb 2500m into the sky? I think that's a bargain. The first part of the journey was by cable car to 1500m, and the last 1000m was by ski-style chair lift (in fact, it's clearly a skiing region, it's just not snowy at the moment). The vista was so unbelievably perfect, I just gawped in wonder. None of my photos will do it justice, I am certain – though, that didn't stop me taking loads. It was the reason I decided to drive through Switzerland, and made me so happy I could burst. Yay.

IMG_2349.JPGBut I had to come down and get a move on. I fancied staying in Switzerland another night – I'd withdrawn 300 SFr, not knowing what their currency was worth, so I've still got loads of it left and might as well spend it here. I drove to the capital Bern, and found their only campsite to be closed - Alan Rogers has naff all campsites listed for northern Switzerland, so I was on my own here. So, I decided to carry on to Germany, since it was only an hour away, and had lots of listed campsites.

I've just had a meal in the campsite restaurant, which was an amusing experience. I speak no German at all, and they seemed to find this most peculiar – like a campsite on the German/Swiss/French border in a major tourist region might not entice non-Germans to visit it. I picked through the menu, ordered the only thing I recognised (Rumpsteak mit pommes frites is pretty self explanatory; shame, I had steak last night, but ho hum) and then ate it whilst everyone around me watched – perhaps to see if English people eat differently to them, I don't know.

So I'm here at the gateway to the Black Forest, and tomorrow I'm gonna go see my some cookoo clocks and try to get some gateau. The campsite has a pool which I think I'll use in the morning, and try to make my way to Heidelberg or somewhere for tomorrow night. (I think I'm going to aim or Luxembourg and Belgium on the way home, just to notch up the country count!)

Big Billy Trip 14 - Lake Maggione, Italy to Lungern, Switerland

Route – Lake Maggione, Italy to Lungern, Switzerland
Distance - 214km (2,961km total)

IMG_2295 Tonight, dear reader, I am a man. I ever there was doubt cast about my manhood (heaven forfend) let that doubt now be cast asunder. I am a man because, having arrived at my campsite in Switzerland, I have this evening: gone on a hike, found firewood, chopped it up with an axe, made a fire on the beach, and cooked steak on it for my dinner. Whilst drinking whisky. Oh yes; I am a man.

I am also probably breaking a million Swiss laws or something, I've heard this country is a stickler for properness. Ah well; fuck em. I'm leaving for Germany tomorrow. They're much more understanding. (did I mention the whiskey?)

I was slightly put off whilst eating my steak by the miriad cow bells jangling behind me. I think the cows know. Cows always know, don't they?

Oh and when I saw I 'found' the firewood... I nicked it off someone's woodpile. Ahem.

IMG_2225Seriously, it's beautiful here. Think Heidi and Sound of Music, and that's what this lake whose shore I'm sat on is like. The brazzier is burning to the right of me, and the lake is lapping a few metres from my feet – not that I can tell, because it is pitch black out here. It's everything you wanted Switzerland to be.

IMG_2215I left Italy at about noon. It absolutely pissed it down in the night. This meant two things. One, all my laundry got drenched on the line; not to worry, they had a tumble dryer for 3 EURO. And two, Billy sprung a new leak. Took me ages to work this one out, at 2 in the morning. Basically, because of the way I was parked, the rain water was gathering in the rear gutters, and overflowing, and pouring into the top of the tailgate. On to my head. I tried the Bestival method of blocking the holes with dirty socks, but it was no good. So I went outside (in waterproof trousers and jacket, rarrrr) and stuffed the dirty socks in the tailgate out there instead. Much more effective.

So, I know I need new door rubbers on the tailgate. But I was also able to do some crafty DIY the next morning. I remember my mechanic telling me a while back that rear gutters are meant to have drainage holes, but mine had been bodged by some previous owner. So, I used the dremmel-type tool I brought with me (just call me Sam the Ever Ready) to drill a 4mm hole in the gutter on the back offside corner. Hopefully, if the gutter fills up again, it'll be able to drain itself better. Of course, it may now pour down the van into the tailgate or light cluster, but I'll deal with that another time.

I felt a bit nervous crossing the border, for some reason. A little man opened a barrier for me, and didn't even want to see my passport. I could have been a terrorist! Good job I'm not. I stopped to buy the 'vignette' (motorway tax disc for switzerland) and also to get some money out – apparently swiss francs are quite like US dollars, ie. there's roughly 2 to the pound. This led to my first discovery which is that, actually, stuff is quite cheap here. I was led to believe it was a fairly expensive country. But petrol is about 85p a litre, coca cola is about 75p a bottle, and camping is just £10 a night. So, hrumph to that. Switzerland is much cheaper than Italy, that's for sure.

Drove through some ore of those kick ass tunnels to get here too. And all included in my £20 motorway tax. And it'll last until the end of the year, if I want it to. Ace.

IMG_2296OK, so the fire is dying down, and I am getting a bit chilly, so I better go back to Billy. 'The trick to staying warm is not getting cold in the first place', Freya said last week. So, I better heed her advice. Tata for now! (ahem... manly grrrr)

Big Billy Trip 13 - Bologna to Lake Maggione

Route – Bologna to Maccagno, Lake Maggione (Italian/Swiss border)
Distance - 311 km (2,747 km total)

Just another big day of driving really, with only the motorway for company.

I'm now quite excited about the week ahead, driving through new countries and seeing new things. Slightly bricking it about not speaking the language, but everyone tells me that most people in Switzerland and Germany can speak a bit of English, and by the time I get to Belgium I'm hoping my French will get me by.

The A1 north of Bologne is the first four-lane motorway I've seen in Italy. They seem to get by with just two lanes most of the time, and the occasional three laner. The flamboyant Italian driving style comes into its own on the four-lane motorway. Its as if the pent-up frustration of the two-lane road is set free, and all of a sudden this nut job drivers are set free on a race track (especially the A1 Bologne-Milan, which is basically a straight line for 100km). It's quite nerve wracking, being the guy on the inside, when 3 lorries are trying to enter the motorway from only 30m long sliproads, whilst a zillion drivers on the outside won't let you pull out. Add to that the fact I'm sat on the wrong side of the car, and half of my off-side view is obscured by a cupboard, and it's quite scary!

Every motorway service station in Italy seems to be this brand called Autogrill. I'm growing quite bored of them. They are all exactly the same layout, and sell exactly the same products. I want a bit of variety in my breaks. Can someone open a Welcome Break or a Moto in Italy please?

IMG_2211 The campsite by the lake is lovely. It's called Azur Parkcamping Maccagno, and seems to be entirely staffed and patronised by Germans. I suppose it is practically on the Swiss border, so that would explain it, but even all the signs are in German! I've started saying 'danke' already. It's right alongside the lake, with thankfully a mere chainlink fence separating us from the water, as opposed to hedges or tall fences at other places.

I swam in the lake when I got here. I got a few funny looks, padding out there in my wetsuit, but I figured what the hell. It was ruddy cold, and I had fish for company. Then I did some laundry, some more washing line engineering, and cooked up some yummy bangers and mash with kinda ratatouille gravy. Ok i'm getting boring now. Night night! Switzerland tomorrow.....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Big Billy Trip 12 - Rome to Bologna

ROUTE - Rome to Bologna
Distance - 389km (2,436km total)

So the plan is afoot. Basically, my aim is to get out of Italy as soon as possible (not because I don't like it; just in the name of variety) and get into Switzerland and onto Germany. So today was basically just about doing miles.

The drive from Rome to Bologna was 250 miles straight up the A1 motorway. You could ask for more simple, more boring driving. The iPod kept me company obviously, and I treated myself to a stop and a break every 50 miles. Wow, what an exciting life I lead.

The campsite I chose was Citta da Bologna campsite - basically a huge municipal car park of a place, alongside the city's massive trade fair centre. Very uninteresting, and staffed by very grumpy men. So I didn't hang about there, I got the bus into Bologna for a few hours in the city.

IMG_2205Bologna is a mixture of really old stuff a la Rome, and bustling cosmopolitan university town. The demographic was significantly younger than anywhere else I've seen in Italy, and it was also a lot quieter. Apart from the usual old Piazzas, churches and towers, the most interesting thing was a trio of streets selling gorgeous Italian foodstuffs. It was a kinda Borough Market for Italy. I bought some tortelloni, salami, and some bread, and cooked it up when I got back to Billy later that night.

IMG_2203 So tomorrow I think I'm going to head for Milan, and try to go beyond it if I can. It all depends on what campsites are open and what the best routes into Switzerland are. I'm going to do all that research now, as I watch Casino Royale on my DVD. Night!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Big Billy Trip 11, Rome!

IMG_2072Our second day in Rome, and Freya had had a rough night. She'd got some sort of fever, and had the dreaded hot n colds all night. So we took it a bit easy, laid in until about 11, and even then had a nice sit in the sun and some breakfast before we headed into the city.

IMG_2157So we just spent a couple of hours visiting the Colloseum and the Pantheon, then came back to the site, where I had to say goodbye to Freya and put her on a bus to the airport. Boo x

I made myself feel better with a nice plate of grilled meat at the campsite restaurant, a beer, and a session online planning my next move. I think it's Bologna here we come tomorrow, followed by a route through Switzerland and Germany. Yep, I'm feeling brave. Wish me luck!

Big Billy Trip 10, Montepulciano to Rome

ROUTE- Montepulciano to Rome, via Lago di Bracciano
Distance - 198km (2,047km total)

Our intention was to avoid Rome altogether, just popping to the Ciampino Airport around 6pm to drop Freya off for her flight. We had earmarked a campsite near a lake, about 40km north of Rome, which our book said was open until 31 October. Alas, it was not.

IMG_1992So we went to the nearest town, and hung about looking at the lake for a bit, and decided to plump for Rome anyway. We picked the Flaminio Village campsite (which we rang to check it was open) and headed in.

I had a bit of fun and games navigating the GRA (Rome's equivalent of the M25, but much more complicated). The confusion came threefold - one, the junction we wanted from the GRA was missing its number (6) due to recently completely roadworks and lack of signage. Two, the road we wanted was actually very near the road we were on, so in actual fact we didn't enter the GRA, just brush alongside it using its sliproads. And three, the road we wanted was called Via Flaminia, so as I followed signs saying 'Flaminia' I didn't actually realise I was heading out of Rome (toward the town of Flaminia). Once I worked all of this out, and turned around, I found the site no problemo.

IMG_2006The campsite here is lovely, and full of facilities. One of these is their own Tourist Information desk, who sold us tickets for an open top bus tour of the city. It was fun to see Rome by night, and afterwards we hunted for a nice little restaurant to have dinner. We ended up having the most overpriced meal I think I've ever had. This restaurant, which looked to all intents and purposes like a restaurant from the outside, was in fact a room with tables and chairs and decor, above another room with fridges and microwaves and work surfaces. I think for something to be called a restaurant it must have a cooker. I know this one didn't because I accidentally stumbled into the kitchen looking for the loo. I ordered lasagne, and freya ordered an eggplant lasagne thing, and we ordered a mixed salad to share, and a bottle of E25 Prosecco. The whole thing came to 65 Euros, which was hilarious since the salad was a bag of lettuce, some tinned sweetcorn, and some shitty cheap olives. Ho hum. When in Rome.

Final note of the night is to mention the luxurious toilets at this campsite. They are marble, kitted out with about 20 cubicles each containing a loo, a shower, a basin, and ecoutrements. Classical music was playing on a speaker system as I pooed. Quite lovely.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Big Billy Trip 9, Florence to Montepulciano

ROUTE - Florence to Montepulciano
Distance - 110km (1,849km total)

Elissa joined us on the road to drive to Montepulciano, where her parents were staying. Freya had been there before when she was 16 years old.

Freya and the KrakauersWe met the Krakaeurs, and explored the town after a nice meaty lunch. Nico, the guy that ran their agritourisme apartment, said we could sleep in Billy on his grounds, so no need to find a campsite.

IMG_1947 We had a lovely dinner that Margie prepared, and drank some nice Montepulciano wine
Loads of photos online at

Big Billy Trip 8, Florence!

The first place we've stayed two nights, washing line engineering, domestic bliss, visit to the Duomo, Boboli Gardens, met Elissa, drank wine, had nice dinner





Sunday, October 12, 2008

Big Billy Trip 7, Rapallo to Pisa to Florence

ROUTE - Rapallo to Florence, via Pisa
Distance - 230km (1,739km total)



Leaning Tower, campsite overlooking Florence!

Big Billy Trip 6, Arenzano to Rapallo

ROUTE - Arenzano, Italy to Rapallo, Italy
Distance - 64km (1,509km total)

Day 6, more beaut weather, random bloke who told me life story, drive through Genova the skankiest city ever, Portofino/St Margerita Legura, more hunting for campsite, found a different one, cute old couple, cats everywhere, weird derelict 30s building, scary petrol smell