In no particular order of priority.
Do -Do get off the motorways and take the quieter routes. They are toll free and give you the chance to pull over and stop in interesting place, off the beaten track.Independence is paramount.
Don’t – Don’t forget to take that spare key for the car, you know, the one you’re never going to need. So easy to lose when moving and constantly repacking from place to place. But so hard to replace when AWOL.
Do – Do take a fold up map. Useful for directions, even better as temporary sunshade on the beach.
Do – Do liberally sprinkle your tour with water parks and amusement parks for the children. Something for them to cling on to and continually ask about whilst sightseeing and travelling.
Don’t – Don’t leave earplugs or earphones in the boot, at the bottom under everything when on the move, especially when the children want to watch a particularly interesting kids film!
Do – Do down load all the maps and towns onto your mobile phone of the towns and countries on your itinerary, before leaving home. This way they can be used without connecting to the costly roaming services when abroad.
Don’t – Don’t eat heavy breakfasts when you’re going to sit in the car for hours, or later you may be sitting for hours! And make that a maximum 7-8 hour drive.
Don’t – Don’t rely on the GPS as if it is infallible. Crossing fields means the GPS may well be a little awry. Balance the GPS data with the best computer in the world, the brain between your ears!
Do – Do remember that many Southern European countries like a little snooze in the afternoon. So plan accordingly with fuel, shops and restaurants. There is nothing more desolate than a child’s face when you explain that the pizza restaurant, they are already sitting at the outside table, is closed until later that day. Pizza DENIED!
Don’t – Don’t allow anyone, repeat anyone to remove socks in the car.
Do- Do pack a sense of humour and a smile.
Don’t – Don’t drink scalding hot coffee over your crotch as you drive.
Do- Do remind the navigator to have the map correctly orientated.
Do – Do go to the dentist before travelling for that niggly pain. Trying to sort out a dentist, and any other minor medical needs, is a nightmare, expensive and stressful.
Don’t – Don’t forget to remind the ladies to buy, pack, all of the hair clips, hair bands, hair pins and their favourite shampoos and conditioners.
Do- Do pack extra toilet roll, you have been warned!
Do – Do pack a torch, change and renew the batteries and take spare batteries as well.
Don’t – Don’t plan to travel to a country experiencing fuel strikes, rioting for assorted reasons and, oops, too late!
Do – Do learn the rudiments of polite etiquette and hello, thank you and goodbye in the language of your intended host countries.
Do – Do pack a smile as it is an international and friendly language:-)
Amusement is listed as meaning: mirth, merriment, hilarity, glee and delight, or from a slightly different angle: entertainment, pleasure and leisure. Whilst in Italy we traipsed into Garda Land, close by Bardolino on Lake Garda, and later Lego Land in Bavaria. Needless to say these were the highlights of the road trip for the children. The park redefined these definitions.
For Garda Land we bought our tickets, which were expensive for four people, online before our departure. It saved very little, apart from a bit of queuing. The rides in Garda were pretty fast and high, at least for me, but of course the kids loved them! Take deep pockets for change, or better still hand over your small change to your wife who is sensibly staying on the ground. When climbing into the super spinning cup and saucer, don’t, repeat don’t think about the large pastry you untypically had for breakfast. Close eyes and focus on the fact that it won’t last long. If you feel the urge to projectile vomit as you climb off at the end, at least direct it from your group! If staggering due to a still spinning head, play act as if you are just pretending.
Remember before you join the long snaking queues that you really don’t have a head for heights. Then ensure you sit behind the children so they cannot see how strongly you are holding onto everything you can. Just get me down, oh nooooooooooooooo!
If the day is scorching hot, it hit 41.5 degrees in Bavaria, then ensure you go on as many of the log water rides as possible for a free soaking. Beware the cost of bottle water in these amusement parks. After selling one kidney and buying one bottle of water for each of us, we noticed the water drinking fountains where people were filling up empty bottles for free. Head gear is also useful and any cinema style inside attraction is a boon on such a a hot day. Such cinema style attractions also have the advantage at not propelling me at muzzle velocity, perilously high in the sky! And finally, don’t forget to pack the headaches tablets, you know the super strength ones!
All aboard and off to Verona, which for us took about 30 minutes from Bardolino. As one of those quirks in life, we went one way and paid a toll, later returning another way toll free! Gliding in to Verona we were met by the vision of a beautiful town. No wonder Julius Caeser used to come here for some down time. Down one of the main thoroughfares we decided to park the car in a facility on the main street, which was built into and under the housing above. This afforded much needed shade, and a colourful owner. He told us that recently his garage had been a temporary home for 30 red Ferrari’s. Deciding that he had mafia connections I promised myself to pay the ticket without argument.
The Roman amphitheatre sits at the central hub of a series of streets that radiate spoke like from its hub. An opera and all its paraphernalia littered the area around one part of the amphitheatre. A short tale exemplifies how easy it is to navigate Verona.
Young lady said she had left her ipad in the car. Everyone looked at me. I had to walk back the 20-25 minutes to the car park. Now this for a man who can get lost at home! With a Captain Oates,”I am just going outside and may be some time” type farewell I set off. Found the car, got the ipad and returned. My smile of triumph as I returned within the same solar year was met by stony faces. But why, was my clothing awry again?
It was here that life taught us another lesson, a lesson combining technology, children and intellectual property. My wife took a picture of young lady, without her permission and much to her chagrin. Mum wanted to show that she had taken a beautiful picture and reassuringly handed the camera to her little lady, who duly fumbled and prodded at buttons in a flurry of digits and prodding. Result? Every photo deleted, lost gone like dust in the wind. All the holiday photos on that device to date. Happiness! Ask before taking pictures and think hard again before handing over said camera 😉
Wandering around Verona we happened on a market and bought delicious fresh fruit, at and devoured the fruit and the ambience. The heat and the architecture and ambling around the Piazza’s was wonderful.
Hey! What about Romeo and Juliet? Well yes, we went there, forging a path through the crowds. All very touristy, dubious in its validity and well, the photo tells the story. There is less physical argy- bargy in a Rugby Union scrum. No time to savour the place, people just wanted their photo ‘look where I have been moment’.
Carefully shoveling everything back into the car we headed off to the rocky shores of Lake Garda. A lake along the banks of which Emperor Claudius defeated Germanic tribes and where Napoleon gave the Austrian army a bad away day. To follow were the battles of the ‘I’m not walking that far’ and ‘what are we doing?’. The route took in Innsbruck and the increasingly mountainous scenery as we ploughed on southwards. The children were fascinated by the mountains and stopped looking at their ipads and tablet etc., for…oh, about 2 seconds! 400km of a beautiful route to drive. The Brenner bridge over the Brenner pass. At 180 meters I declined to look to much at the stunning views, being the pilot, even when invited by the navigator. Although it was late June we did not encounter an real traffic jams or marmalades or other confiture.
For Italy we did not have to purchase a vignette, which was pleasing. Less pleasing was the way the road tolls racked up in Italy. Eventually making the vignettes look good value! At Trento we left the motorway for the sake of our pockets and to better get a feel of the place on lesser roads.And there it was, diamond lights sparking on the surface of Lake Garda. We took the quite road down by the lake to Bardolino which snuggled on the east coast of Garda. Ah…Vacansoleil and our accommodation beckoned. The SR249 is not Russian spy plane, but the funky designation for the road which bisects this camp. I had a choice, pull in on the right and check in. Off course wrong, two receptions, back in the car back on the road and into the left-hand reception. A strange set up as the SR249 (or on alternating Tuesdays, the BR696) was a tad busy and there were many, many families with young children. Later after traversing the road we found out that there is a tunnel connecting the landlocked camp and the shore side area. The tunnel is a cycle and Llama free zone, but cars can go there, too. Super!
The shins explained and our accommodation. After being read the rules we were led to our chalet. Small timber built chalets packed close together amongst very large mature trees.After coating the car in vaseline I just about managed to slip it in next to our chalet, up to the back of the neighbour’s chalet and a big knobbly tree. With children fleeing the car technology in hand we unpacked suitcases and the staggering volumes of blankets and divans. A timber sitting area is traversed and we’re in. Having once visited Chatham naval dockyard on a family visit, and having been aboard an Oberon class diesel-electric submarine , I wasn’t unduly shocked. It was tight. A tiny kitchenette was passed to get to the children’s room which was snugly snug and stifling in the heat. As for the bathroom, well just don’t turn round. If you drop the soap, leave the bathroom and come back in on your knees. Our room was an emaciated double bed with steel legs. Hardly enough room was left to go alongside the bed or get to the tiny wardrobe. Hence the oft repeated, ‘Oh gosh I seem to have hurt my shin again darling, what a clumsy soul I am”.
The camp was packed, noisy and the pool was old fashioned and undersized. An onsite camp shop was not the cheapest, but the supermarkets 10 minutes drive away were very good value.The entertainment reminded me of camps in England as a boy.Noooo! But our submarine sized hut was merely a staging post for amusement parks, sightseeing Sirmione and Verona.
Road Trip The Departure
…and off we go. The driver ingests some ginger for its anti-clotting qualities, the navigator reaffirms her dislike of maps so that’s looking good, whilst the children settle in for the long haul. From the north-east of Poland, up near the border with Russia, our first destination lies only 630km away. It would take about 8 hours, as the unladen swallow flies. African or European?
The route is pretty much south-west towards Cieszyn, via Łomza, Warsaw, which of course is very busy, on southwards past Częstochowa and we swing into Cieszyn itself about 6pm, with its 30,000 residents at home or staying clear of us. We stayed at the Mercure Hotel. Looking like a building the architect decided he or she was never going to stay in and akin to a 1950’s American Motel. The family took the lift to the first floor. Well actually that was it, no more. As they loaded lazily into the lift I was hit with a spurt of competitiveness and ran up the adjoining stairs. One second ahead of them and breathing deeply, my victory enjoyed as they got out the lift..Reasonably priced rooms fitted out in dark wood with white clean crisp sheets and my favourite colour, maroon, for bedding and decor, and instant disliking. Luckily we plumped for two rooms, but with a connecting door so we could gatecrash the wi-fi internet games fest next door, whilst wearing the free silly shower cap pulled down as far as possible!
Czieszyn is half-Polish and half Czech and all European. There is a nice bridge that we wandered over thus entering the Czech Republic for a little amble around. Jumou=ing back and forth, Poland Czech, Poland …well you get the idea.We also purchased the obligatory vignette for driving in the Czech Republic, which as we were only going to drive through proved a little expensive. But as my wife sagely pointed out,
‘’A lot less expensive than the fine for not having a vignette’’. Wise.
We also took the opportunity to fill up the car as the cost of fuel in Poland is better than in Euroland. Stuffing everything into the back of the car, I mean repacking in an orderly fashion, off we toddled again. And little did I know it but our first real test awaited us. We liked Czieszyn so much we went round it a couple times and realized that…
- Our navigator really did not like maps
2. That we should have bought a GPS
3. That we were lost
By cunning and quiet reason we found the correct road and we were off and running again to Salzburg.
What is it about timing? Bereft of GPS we hade some vague maps wjich the navigaotr was poring over as we entered the environs of the town. Just then the children finished watching films, listening to music and filled the car with a cacaphony of questions and demands! Timing. In Salzburg we stayed in the Star Inn hotel where the staff were efficient and friendly and spoke good English, especially as the young lady who booked us in was an American! The hotel was 4km out of town, located next to the small airport. The rooms were basic, clean and comfortable and sported no maroon! We took a cheap inexpensive bus to the town centre. There we took the swift lift up to the castle wandered around enjoying the setting and walked through Old Town as time was pressing. Beware the schnitzel! Overpriced, over-rated and overly greasy. You have been warned, and not the best ballast for another days extended driving on the morrow.
Onwards. Picturesquely located as we drove down into Bolsano we simply headed for the town centre, and within a stones’ throw was the Museum of Otzi. The iceman found in 1991 was housed within. The staff spoke excellent English, the tickets were cheap and the museum absolutely fascinating. As much for Otzi himself, in his own refrigerated area, as for the tools and clothing found with him. Highly recommended and great for the children, and the adults! The town of Bolsano was an unexpected delight, clean and pretty and welcoming.