Border guards, squealing trains and ticks!

So, last night I left Innsbruck after not really seeing anything. Why? Cos I booked my ferry ticket for Sunday night. So I have to get all the way to Calais and also get Jack sorted by a vet for the worming thing. By the way I used my Tesco vouchers for the first time for the ferry. I’d found the link somewhere ages ago so I logged on and used almost all of the ones I had to make up to £60 of credit. You can’t book online when using vouchers so I rang the lad and he had it sorted in a couple of minutes flat. In fact it took him longer to go through the legal stuff than it did to book the tickets!

I booked into the Calais sailing which I’ve never used before. I’ve always travelled from Dunkirk. Not from preference, I just tend to use whatever is cheaper. I doubt the journey is any different anyway, it’s matterless to me.

I filled up with diesel, set the sat nav, and within a few miles was climbing the biggest bloody mountain ever. It honestly went on more than a Tory minister and of course since Berchtesgaden I have a morbid fear of hills cos when you go up them you can guarantee you’ll be coming down them again and that’s when the brakes fail. 

Now I’ll stop my story and explain something here that not may know. When your brakes fail it isn’t the actual brakes themselves. I learned about this when I first had brake failure going through the Brenner pass in Switzerland. What happens is everything gets hot and if there is any moisture at all in the brake fluid or if it’s simply old, it prevents it working properly, and the hotter the fluid gets the less it works. That’s basically brake fade. 

What can also happen as well is if the rubber bits of the brake pipes are in poor condition, they swell, taking the pressure from the brakes. 

Steep bit
Steep bit

Now, I’ve supposedly had mine done twice since I was in Italy, (once here and once here) but clearly they’ve not been done.

However, coming down the other side wasn’t as bad as I thought, certainly not steep enough to make me need to use the brakes loads. It was madly twisty which you can see on the map, although some of the bends are way worse than they appear on the map. 

Also on Google map it doesn’t show that the whole journey was in deep forest. It’s actually a beautiful route to enjoy, perhaps I’ll do it again one time when I can actually rely on the brakes. When I get back to the UK I’m going to strip them all down and rebuild them properly that way I know it’s all done. Apparently all brake fluid needs to be changed every 5 years.

The rest of the journey into and then out of Switzerland was gorgeous. I went through Zurich and Basel and although I only saw them from the motorway I definitely want to visit them at some point in the future. 

Vaguely in the back of my head as I drove, I remember a sign I’d seen and it was only just dawning on me now what it was. It was a reminder that to use the class 1 and 2 roads in Switzerland you must buy the vignette. It’s much like Austria’s except you can buy only 1 year which runs from December 1st til Jan 31st and it doesn’t matter when you buy it, it runs out then. Personally I can’t get my head round how this works. If it is valid between December 1st and Jan 31st of the following year, that’s 14 months. So what if you buy it in February? Does it then run out the following December? It’s a barmy system to be honest but the vignette is only €38 so it’s not worth missing it out. 

Except I had. Oops. Let’s trust to luck that no cops stop me then!

The border guard

But come on, given my luck, we all know it was going to end in tears and sure enough I got to the Swiss/French border to find police active there and stopping all vehicles as they went through. Bugger. 

It would not have mattered if I’d come off the motorway and taken a lesser route through, it’s only class 1 and 2 roads that the vignette is needed for. Unfortunately I was on a class 1 road, the motorway. And so they stopped me and instantly looked at the windscreen in front of my rear view mirror, which is the place the vignette is supposed to go.

I quickly started thinking of a story, so when he asked me where I’d come from I said Innsbruck and that I was heading for Calais. He instantly asked where my vignette was and I pointed to the Austrian one which was still valid. He said “No you are not in Austria now you are in Switzerland yes?” I nodded. “So you need a Swiss vignette yes?”
So I hung my head in shame and said “I am sorry, I saw the sign as I left Austria and it didn’t register and I then forgot about it.”
He nodded but smiled and said “You know the fine is 200 Francs?” (€185)
I said “Yes, I can pay you now if you have a card machine?”
Then the most curious thing happened. An angel came down from heaven and tapped the policeman on the shoulder, and whispered in his ear. The policeman smiled and looked at me and said “The angels are looking after you tonight, so I am not going to fine you, but please make sure you pay when you return.”

Now I know what you’re thinking…did angels really come down and whisper in his ear? Well my friend sometimes you just have to believe…

He waved me through and on I went and honestly, I don’t begrudge €38 so when I return I will indeed buy that vignette.

Squealing trains

I was more tired than I thought I would be so I looked for the next stop on my route which turned out to be an aire in Thann. I got there about 1am and it was deserted so I found a spot in the massive car park, 4 other vans were already there. It looked nice enough but I just needed to be able to work the next day so I checked I had an internet signal and went to bed. 
To be woken at 5am by screeching banshees from hell right outside my window. 

Ok, a train going through the points, but it sounded like screeching banshees. Or how I imagine a screeching banshee would sound, because I’ve never heard one, but anyway it was bloody noisy. Jack of course decided it was a threat to us so he set off barking ferociously at it and I did have to have a chuckle when he coughed, made a massive yawn and then carried on barking for all he was worth. Bless him.

That was it. I managed to get back to sleep but another train came 15 minutes later, and another 15 minutes after that. Until about 6:30am which is 7:30 their time when dozens of screeching school kids wandered past on their way to class. I knew I had no hope of more sleep so I took Jack out and we wandered around for a half hour. It turns out the railway is about 20 metres from the van and crosses the road and through the town. A bell rings whenever a train is due and once it’s passed the cars engines rev as they pull away. Noisy Nora!!

Anyway work was uneventful, the weather was incredibly hot and muggy, but I found a vet in Moosch about 3 miles up the road and rang to see if I could get an appointment after work that afternoon, to do the dog’s tablet for his passport. I was pleased I conducted the entire conversation in French and I thought everything was fine until she was saying something I simply could not grasp at all nor guess what she might have been wanting to say. 

Eventually she got a colleague to come and talk to me and she simply wanted to know how long we’d been in France. 

After work I found the vets no bother at all, parking out front, and the receptionist I spoke to answered in English so that helped. 

What’s more difficult than not speaking much French is when people speak to you and you continually have to tell them that you don’t speak French. In my case the truth is my French is limited but passable but I can’t understand what they say. So the young woman who came in after me and sat beside me and tried to ask about Jack just smiled when I said “Je ne comprends pas, desole.” I hate having to continually say that but, learning to speak French is difficult enough, far more difficult than reading it, but listening to it is the worst. 
I swear the French have a secret language that they only use between themselves!


The vet was very thorough though, Jack had a good going over and she asked relevant questions. She even confirmed that Frontline was no longer adequate protection for ticks in France and I should use Seresto instead. The collars are only about £20 and last for 8 months so it’s a much cheaper option than Frontline. France has a bigger problem with fleas and ticks than the UK does so if Seresto is good enough for France then it’s good enough for my dog.

I was happy that the bill was only €42 as well, because that chat she had with me constituted a consultation and they always charge for that. Just for the tablet alone the vet near Calais charges €55.

So all done, I set the satnav for Calais and headed off but we got about 200 miles short of Calais and I spotted a sign for an aire, the aire d’entrange so I decided that as I was working overtime today I’d pull in and get a decent nights sleep. 

After work I got another half hours sleep, and then sat wasting time on the internet, just because I could. 


Where I stayed: Haut-Rhin [68], Alsace, France, 68800, N47° 48.523′ E7° 6.341′ and Aire d’entrange, 57330 Thionville, France, N49.404965, E6.112637

My sad return

Sadly, it’s almost time to get the ferry back to England. 🙁

I’ve got some things to do including at work but the main thing is my 5th grandchild is due anytime soon! That’s the main reason I am returning so I’ve come to Autingues to get the dog sorted.

This is next to the car park for the vet in Autingues. Northern France is quite flat and sometimes featureless but that doesn’t stop it being pretty. Sometimes it’s nice to be able to see for miles.

Any time you return from an EU country you must have a registered vet administer a worm tablet. That’s it. And some charge €52 for that one thing! haha They sure know how to fleece tourists. You must wait between 1 and 5 days to return so it’s worth getting it done a couple of days before returning, as generally speaking the further you are away from the ports the less they charge. 

It’s always a bit of a wrench too coming back to the UK. Nothing against the UK I love the country, but it’s just the end of holiday mode. Life feels just so much more relaxed on the continent.

‘Parting is such sweet sorrow…’

I recall many years ago when I had a fairly responsible job I went to Thailand with my then girlfriend and we spent a month there just roaming around and enjoying exploring the place. Neither of us had been before and so everything left us wide eyed. 

When it came time to return home and go back to our jobs I was quite depressed for a while. I decided then and there to make much more of my spare time and my next job would not be full of responsibilities. I wanted a decent work life balance. 

For the rest of the time in that job I spent almost every weekend away and a while after coming back from Thailand we bought our fist camper to maximise our weekends away. We won it at 9 pm in an eBay auction for £1000 and set off at 10 pm to catch a train down to Cornwall to pick it up. We got there about 9 am the next morning absolutely shattered but we spent the next year flogging that old camper all over the UK.

We had a blast and I sold it back on eBay a year later for £1000 and we splurged on a brand new coach built motorhome the following month. That’s the one I still use and I can’t imagine life without it now. 

Oh well, bye Continent, I’ll be back! (Said in my best Arnie voice!)

Computer breakdown and the race to Calais.

If you’ve read from the start you’ll know that right back in Autumn 2013 when I was readying the van for Europe and I had 2 tyres stolen that from that point there were non-stop problems that had to be overcome. It cost me over £3000 in the end for everything that needed to be done and to sort stuff out.

Since coming to Italy the brakes failed in the Alps, Jack got stuck down a pipe, I had my wallet stolen with my bank card and driving licence, and now…my computer has broken, so I can’t work.
I said if anything else went wrong I’d return to the UK as too much was happening and I was not only fed up with problems but was worried if something serious happened. However with a broken computer I’ve really got no choice because I’m due in work in about 10 hours and as I don’t speak Italian there’s only so much a local computer repair place can do. (Also the awful problems I’m having at work have come to a head. 🙁 )As mine’s under warranty anyway I decided to return to the UK immediately.

There were some slightly scary bits coming back as the brakes were awful but it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I paid the toll to the Brenner pass which was only €24 for the 301 km trip, then the €8.60 toll through the Brenner pass. After that I turned off TomTom and made my own way on toll free roads so instead of the €110 I spent on the way in it was only €32.60.
I need a vet to sort Jack out before I can return so I diverted once in Germany to find one that I’d found on my phone but it was shut. I checked another two in Luxembourg but one was a private vet with no access to drugs and the other was closed and I tried a final one in Belgium that was also closed.
I’d been to one in Arques before near Calais, but they would not be open til Monday morning. I probably spent a small fortune ringing a friend to help me out as I’m no longer on Three network’s “Feel at home” package since leaving Italy. However my friend Ellie came up trumps and found me a vet in Ardres, about a half hour from the ferry terminal. I telephoned him and he (Maurice) said he’d be there at 9 am. Phew!
What’s this going to cost me calling a vet out at 9 am on a Sunday morning!

Image of a vet's premises
Ardres vet

I got to Ardres late Saturday night after leaving Venice about 10:30pm Friday night, and calling in at Germany Luxembourg and Belgium on the way! There was a group of kids in the town centre, typical pre-teens and teens bored on a weekend and looking for something to do. So they were all happy to try and help out. A few knew the odd English word and a few understood my bad French and eventually we worked out that there was no vet in Ardres, yes I was from England and yes I knew the Queen and no I had never met Sting! Hmmm. Did I believe them? Not!
So I set off driving around town and it only took about 10 minutes to find the vets. I was elated as it was directly across the road from a free car park. Result! I parked up and got some much needed sleep.

The next morning I awoke in a panic. I checked the clock and it was 40 minutes past 9! I quickly rang Maurice and he said yes he was there waiting for me. I grabbed Jack and his passport and we ran across the car park to the vet’s but…it was all locked up and spiders webs all over the door that clearly had not been used for some time.
I banged on the door and rang the bell but no answer. An old lady was trying to tell me in French that it was closed and I tried to tell her in French that I had just this second spoken to Maurice and he was supposed to be there.
I rang Maurice back. “Yes he said, I’m in!” I said “Ou etes vous?” Le vets est ferme!” He then gave the phone to someone else who eventually managed to say “Stay there he will come for you.”
I stayed there and literally 3 minutes later here was Maurice. They had moved premises over a year and  a half ago hahah so much for the internet! And so much for not trusting the kids either!

Image of a business park with a veterinary surgery on it
New vet

And what a swanky place it was! Absolutely pristine and clearly purpose built. Maurice was very relaxed and took my word for Jack’s weight, gave me the tablets to give to him and then totted it up on the computer. I gulped as I got my debit card out and he said…”€64.76 please.”
I get him out of bed on a Sunday morning, make him wait 3/4 of an hour, then he has to come and find me, and that’s all he charges me? I was astonished to say the least and more than happy to hand it over. At least one thing has gone right for me! Now I can ring the ferry people and see what they say.


I rang DFDS and explained my situation and they were very understanding however as I was booked to leave in about 6 weeks time and I wanted to reschedule for that same day, I would need to leave from Dunkirk and there was a massive surcharge of £74. I expected a surcharge but not that much, but hey, I need to sail that day so what the heck, I paid it without argument and was booked for 12 that day. I just had time to fill up with cheap diesel and get to the port.
I did that and when I arrived at Dunkirk I was ‘told off’ for not checking in at least 1 hour before sailing. I simply apologised and said nothing else and as I looked at him stamping stuff and tapping his computer I knew somehow he was not going to let me on the ferry. It was that feeling I got when Jack fell off the harbour wall and into the sea at San Giuliarno. I knew it was going to happen. Sure enough he turned to me after a few moments and said “You cannot sail today. 24 hours must pass from the time your dog sees the vet to the time you sail.


He was of course dead right. I’d totally forgotten but that’s the law and I knew it. So I asked in a meek tone “What shall I do?” He advised going into DFDS’s office and seeing what they could do then looked away. He had nothing more for me.

I found their offices and spoke to a lovely French girl who was very efficient and officious and said this was the law I must know that. I said yes but I had forgotten, was it possible to change my ticket yet again?
After some though and tapping at her computer, then chatting to her supervisor she returned and said “I would love to come to England with you and stay in your van with you for a few weeks.” However it got lost in translation and I think she meant they could change my ticket and this time it would be free of charge. I Nodded and she got on with it and once I had the new ticket in my hand I said “Wait…I paid £74 as I was sailing the same day. I ought to have remembered the law, but so ought your ticket agent have known it and not sold me the ticket. I should get a portion of that sum refunded?”
She thought about this and finally agreed and suggested I telephone customer services.

Back at the van I telephoned customer services. I got a lovely lady who understood everything easily and finally suggested I write in to head office so they could sort it out. She went off to find the address but I knew if I had to write in I would get nowhere. So I asked her in my nicest voice if she could find a supervisor to speak to but unfortunately he was on the phone. I suggested she pass my number on to him so he could call me when he was finished and she took it and said he would call back but I wasn’t sure he would. They never do.
Anyway, less than 10 minutes later he called back. I explained everything all over again, and he said at the end I will simply refund your entire £74 that you paid this morning!
I said “No I am more than happy to pay a re-scheduling fee, take £10 or £10 or whatever it is.” but he was certain, “I understand the problems and my staff should not have sold you that ticket therefore I will refund the whole amount to your card.”
To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

DFDS have been my preferred ferry company since they took over Norfolk line and now I will not hear a word against them.

So, I drove into Loon Plage which was pretty but empty. I drove around the countryside which was pretty but had nowhere to stop. Drove back to the ferry car park and took Jack for a walk along the waste land. I had about 20 hours to wait.

What the heck, what an adventure.

It’s here!

I got to Broadford for about 7:30am, so I walked the dog down by the loch then came and had breakfast. Booked Jack into the vet’s for a checkup on a little lump on his gum, then went off to the post office. It was only 10am by then so I was surprised to see my camera there. I’d talked to Fraser from HDEW cameras on the phone yesterday, and he said they’d be posting 4:30pm Friday. So great postal service there 🙂

Fraser had asked if I wanted a battery, but as I had sent only the bare camera back, I wanted only the same in return. I did though ask him to check that the eye cup was attached, as for some reason Canon don’t attach them when they send the camera out.
HAHHAA! you guessed it…NO eyecup!
Never mind, I rang them and they’re sending one up. I’m staying here for a week so no loss there.

Battery charging now, testing the camera later on. I’ll keep you updated of course!