If you’re looking for a comprehensive detailed report on the best things to see and do on a road trip to Greece, then don’t read this blog post. If however, you are interested in keeping rhubarb plants alive, whilst travelling through eastern Europe plus avoiding paying for the toilet, then this may be just the ticket for you. Here is part 1 of our European road trip adventure.
Why we decided to drive from the UK to Greece…
Let me give you some boring background information before the road trip begins. If you’re only here to find out about the rhubarb, feel free to skip ahead. We decided to buy a car in the UK and take it to Greece, not only because we just love the challenge of manoeuvring a right-hand-drive vehicle on the wrong side of the road, but also because it was substantially cheaper. We’ve done the whole ‘buy a second-hand vehicle in Greece scenario’ and it resulted in lots of paperwork, an uneconomical vehicle and mastic-ed up windows that we couldn’t open…yes mastic…DIY mastic …another story entirely.
Anyway, we took the opportunity of driving back across Europe after spending Christmas and New year with family and friends in the UK. There were various different routes we could have chosen, but it seemed too good an opportunity not to see some new places and cultures along the way. Add a little sister, two rhubarb plants and you’ve got yourself a road trip right there. After some research we decided upon the following route:
I did a lot of extensive research (two days before leaving) before settling on this particular route. We wanted to see more of Eastern Europe as we’ve never been to these countries before. Additionally, our insurance wouldn’t cover us for Hersgovnia & Bosnia or North Macedonia, plus we would have had to purchase additional insurance to drive through Serbia and Albania. (See further down for the need-to-know points on driving through Europe during the winter.)
Why we have rhubarb…
So why on earth did we have two rhubarb plants with us anyway? A rhubarb plant has been tricky to source in Crete, and we just LOVE rhubarb crumble. You can take the girl out of England, but you can’t take England out of the girl. The main motivation for this road trip was just for the rhubarb really.
We left the
festive wintery drizzly and depressing UK on the evening of the 2nd January 2020. As we pulled out of my parents driveway, a mysterious incessant beeping noise emanated from the car. Don’t you find that these things always seem to occur at the most unfortunate moments? After a few minutes of panic, we tried the fail-safe method of turning it off, and then turning it back on again – it seems to remedy all manner of technological ailments. Yet again, it solved the problem.
I’ll miss out the really minutae of details, but after arriving at Newhaven ferry port, we queued, stroked a nice dog, threw a ball for said dog, waited, slept awkwardly, ate a cheese and pickle sandwich, and then queued some more…all in that order.
In the dark early hours of the morning, we intrepidly disembarked the ferry in France, where we unintentionally lied to the security official about our destination and the duration of our stay. Those officials make you feel so on edge. We have nothing to hide, yet we found ourselves trying to act ‘normal’. Personally it was the worrying thought that my rhubarb plants could be discovered and confiscated. I’m not sure on the legalities of entering a country in the possession of edible perennials. Mr SN assured me that they aren’t looking for contraband of the rhubarb variety, but it was a worry none the less.
The excitement of our impending road trip to Greece bubbled and foamed in our stomachs like a washing machine with too much detergent…eco friendly detergent of course.
Talking of things that foam, let me ask you a question? Are there any laws that prohibit brushing teeth in a public car park? Mr SN caused some interest from the French authorities. After a quick coffee stop, we all felt the need to freshen up. Whereas I discreetly cleaned my pearly pegs whilst no-one was looking, Mr SN has no such qualms about embarrassing himself.
I’m all for standing out and rejecting conformity, but I don’t like people looking at me. I’d love to have a bit more confidence to ‘through caution to the wind’ but I still find myself hoping that nobody can see me. If an invisibility cape was a ‘thing’ then I’d camp outside the shop for days in advance to be the first in line. Mr SN on the other hand, really couldn’t give a flying whatsit***. He doesn’t care what he looks like/ says/ or does. . He’s fearless. He even does u-turns when there’s a sign telling you not too. He’s a rule breaker.
***Just to clarify, when I looked up the spelling for ‘whatsit’ it informed me that there’s also another ‘wotsit’…which is…”A Name for those who wear foundation so ridiculously orange they look like they just rolled in wotsits, and usually have extensions that look like skanky string.” … I don’t mean this kinda wotsit.
The policeman were intrigued and came over to enquire as to what he was doing. Thankfully, on discovering he was no threat, they kept going. It was a lucky escape, he could have been ‘done’ for any number of offence. Flossing with undue care and attention? Brush and run? Brushing whilst under the influence of caffeine? I’m not up to date with the in’s and out’s of the dental code.
We trundled along the immaculate French roads. The scenery was vast and flat and as the rain persisted, we cranked up the music and sang along. We passed sleepy French villages, where the only shops that seemed to be open were pharmacies and funeral undertakers. Huge wind turbines stood in fields full of crops that stretched into the distance.
France gradually turned into Belgium and eventually into Luxembourg. I have to admit that I didn’t see an awful lot of Luxembourg. Sleep got the better of me and I was lulled into a peaceful slumber.
Austria whizzed by to the soundtrack of my sister singing ‘the hills are alive’ and a blur of houses with long over-hanging roofs. Similarly, in sound-of-music-style, we donned headscarves and skipped around merrily whilst reciting our favourite things. Only kidding, but I’d definitely have been up for that, unfortunately the schedule was too tight. We stayed at a very standard bed and breakfast, where the lock to our room was sticky, and Mr SN had to do one of his least favourite things – peel boiled eggs. Additionally, I mastered eating with chop sticks at a Chinese all-you-can-eat buffet just down the road.
Now what are your thoughts on paying for the toilet? Surely it’s a basic human right to be able to pee for free? We felt incensed and reluctant to pay €0.70 at the services every time we needed the toilet. Since when was a human basic need a money making opportunity? In response to this situation, we limited our fluid intake and decided that dehydration and kidney stones were worth the risk.
Relieving one’s self was now viewed by degree of urgency. “How badly do you need it?” we questioned each other. When the inevitable was unavoidable, we searched for a secluded spot behind some bushes. The following hours followed in a succession of long tarmac-ed roads and a foggy headache induced by dehydration.
By this time, we were in Germany. The scenery was beautiful, and pine forests clung to hillsides which gave way to villages nestled in valleys. The rhubarb was travelling very well and at regular intervals, we stopped at the side of the road for a cheeky wee and to tend to the rhubarb plants.
Germany felt cold, and as we battled the icy wind in search of coffee, we were embarrassed to find hardy German children playing outside without coats on. At one of many fuel stops, we bought jagermeister to warm our cockles.
We giggled at childish spellings on German road signs (see picture below) and marvelled at a place called Ausfahrt which was signposted at every exit on the motorway. “It must be a huge place” we exclaimed. It wasn’t after a few hundred miles that we figured out that ‘ausfahrt’ means ‘exit’.
Thanks for reading part 1 of our road trip to Greece. I’ve got to go because the laptop charger that Nancy-floss chewed is playing up again, and I can’t recharge. Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll continue the escapade of travelling with rhubarb plants*** how much the trip cost, and horrendous road side toilets in Hungary – they were free, so at least we didn’t have to pay!
***spolier alert, a leaf on my rhubarb plant wilts.
Top tips on driving through Europe during the winter:
- Purchase winter tyres – they are mandatory for most European countries during the winter.
- Purchase snow chains – although we didn’t need them, it is a legal requirement to carry them in some countries.
- Inform your insurance company of your trip, they will tell you which countries are included on your policy, and will issue you with a European green card.
- Purchase vignettes for countries such as Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria etc. You can buy them online, or just before you cross the border.
- Carry the necessary equipment specified by each country, such as high visibility jackets, breatherlsisers, triangle etc.***
*** If you like me, think it’s strange to carry a musical instrument then you’re not alone. Mr SN had to reveal that there is another kind of triangle. The extent of my triangle knowledge only stretched as far as the metal musical percussion variety that we all played if we weren’t good enough to get into recorder club in primary school. It’s hardly my musical instrument of choice in the event of a traffic accident.
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