Back on a dark and wintery Canberra evening last year, freezing in my badly insulated room, I received some news to warm me from the inside.
My friend Danielle had just got engaged to her beau Jon and would be married in France!
I was immensely happy for her. We had been friends a long time and I knew from our endless Sex and the City marathons over the years that she was a total sucker for romance and would be on top of the world, as happy as Charlotte in the Harry years one might say. I also knew that this would not be a wedding of small proportions. I mean this is a girl who has a birthday week as opposed to a day like the rest of us, and I was not wrong when the details were announced.
They would be married in the south west of France, in a chateau and not just any old chateau a really fancy fairy tale looking one with turrets, endless grounds and a secret staircase and everything.
It was set to be a spectacular celebration, yet being thousands of miles away I had no idea of where we would be or how we would get there when the big day rolled round over a year later.
However two things were certain; my Australian visa was running out and Mr S couldn’t wait any longer for a European adventure.
So when the bride and groom revealed, in Indian wedding style, that the celebrations would take place over the course of a week, we couldn’t commit to the whole time, but knew we would be there. Somehow.
The idea for a road trip struck me when feeling dismayed over the exorbitant price of hotels in close proximity to the chateau. Mr S and I cemented our journey of togetherness over a 10 day road trip from Sydney to Byron Bay and I loved the idea that we could make new memories, roll into our camper after a few and tick some countries off S’s bucket list.
Road trippin’ 2014
So it was on another cold and miserable Canberra evening that the road trip idea was born and we started googling all the places we could go, from the Bavarian countryside to the rolling vineyards of Champagne. There was also the question of what kind of van to hire, something practical and classy, inconspicuous to assist with ghetto camping perhaps? Yeah right.
This is the tame one. You should see the one about the dildo!
By the time the road trip arrived I had forgotten that we booked with the cheapest company notorious for its ghastly paint jobs and bombastic at best, misogynist at worst, slogans. Indeed activists had recently called for Wicked Campers, and I quote;
‘To remove the violent, misogynist, racist and homophobic slogans from its rental fleet’
I knew we were in for a real treat when the dreadlocked, barefoot faux company representative, (the real one had ‘some stuff’ to attend to in Poland), told us that we didn’t have the van we had paid for, but not to worry because that one was the dildo van and this one was far more refined.
S promptly christened the eyeball mum van ‘Hildy’, presumably so he didn’t have to think about it’s rear end too much.
Our fist stop would be just outside of Hannover, a nice drive of 3 hours to get S aquatinted with driving on the wrong side of the road and not killing us.
Not being quite in to the ghetto camping thing just yet, we paid for a campsite that first night, like total mugs! We didn’t even take advantage of the showers! The site we chose was rather unremarkable though, so we got an early start the next day given that S taken to the autobahn like a duck to water and hadn’t crashed yet.
A brief note on the autobahn; I cannot grasp why Germany gives full autonomy to drivers to regulate their own speed given its love of rules in just about every other facet of daily life.
I found the autobahn to work much like a high school bully, he who is biggest and loudest intimidates everyone else to get ahead. Yet I learnt that there is reason in this madness; if speed is found to be a factor in an accident then you are liable. Now that may be all well and good, but if you’re flooring it at 170kms an hour I doubt there will be anyone left to sue!
In any event, we didn’t compete with the big boys, even though we could have flashed our rear end to any bully who wanted us out of the way.
What have the Romans ever done for us?
By the evening we made it all way to Trier, Germanys oldest city nestled on the Mosel River near the border with France. We filled our glasses with the finest Riesling ready for our first ghetto camp in a car park near the river. Whilst that may sound a bit grim, and it was inside the van as we neglected to pack pillows or anything to sleep in, it made for a delightful riverside breakfast in the morning.
Not so bright eyed and busy tailed, we headed in to the city to see the Roman ruins, of which there were plenty. Whilst the age of the ruins were too great and abstract for me to get my head around, S relished in exclaiming “what have the Romans ever done for us?!” on multiple occasions whilst waving around his newly purchased guide book.
Ruins aside, I found Trier to be a delightful place to wander and especially enjoyed the candy floss coloured buildings which graced the medieval town square.
Next, we resolved the sleeping situation by purchasing pillows, blankets and duvets ( I was SO unbelievably tired) and bundled back in to Hildy to set off for Champagne!
Which was a non negotiable destination seeing as we had no other ideas for a wedding present.
Luxembourg. In 40 minutes.
I may have mentioned that having being restricted to a rather large island for the first 26 years of his life S aspires to ‘go everywhere’. This has resulted in him collecting countries with the same verve he has taken to collecting Pokemon, therefore not stopping in Luxembourg was out of the question.
We were however short on time. I had a passing interest to see the city but my love of sparkling wine knew no bounds, so we resolved to pop in and gave ourselves an hour.
Turns out there’s not a great deal to see in the new part of the city (given that we took the wrong turning to see the old town). My takeaway? Cafes, expensive shops and small dogs. That and a general sense of emptiness surrounding the city. We even laughed that it reminded us a bit of a Canberra suburb.
On crossing the border, the scenes continued to be a tad Australian giving off a ‘NSW in the height of summer’ vibe with fields of scorched earth and unrelenting sunshine which burnt me through the windscreen. The roads were even speed regulated! That said though we were defiantly in France when ordered to part with 30 euros at regular intervals at the tolls.
Yet despite the cost, we arrived in Champagne by 6pm, deciding to stay in a hotel for the night as we were still scarred from the lack of sleep from the night before.
Champagne certainly made a convert out of S who could “take it or leave it” prior to his visit. My love however had always been true, and I relished in perhaps the only benefit of not having a driving licence at 30, by filling my boots with everything offered to me.
Hangover setting in, we left with 9 bottles and only 3 of those were for the wedding. When in Champagne and all that..
It was now Tuesday afternoon we were making good time to arrive at the Chateau on Wednesday evening in time for the rehearsal dinner. S drove for a few hours whilst I necked water in the passenger seat and we decided to stop equidistance in Orleans for the evening.
A French Revelation
I have always held the naive view that the whole of France is as chic, beautiful and manicured as central Paris; a land where the smell of freshly baked croissants fills every corner. A view I now know to be unrealistic after visiting Orleans. Whilst the centre was amazing; windy streets, whitewashed houses with powder blue shutters, a cathedral to rival the Notre Damn, its surrounding suburbs were a bit sad.
After surveying a few parks that wouldn’t look out of place on Shameless, we reasoned that Orleans may be worth a few euros of paid camping. We did find a place, a lovely place in fact, but alas so did many others and it was full. Not to be deterred though, we parked ourselves round the corner, managing (miraculously, being bright orange) to clandestine ourselves behind a string of other vehicles for the night.
Avoiding the tolls the next morning, winding through some beautiful little towns, we arrived at our destination in the afternoon, and boy was it worth the wait, it was simply stunning.
So many introductions followed, many I knew, many I didn’t, and I thought it lovely that so many had made it, getting along like old friends ready to party for the whole week. And party they certainly did. Many a sore head was being nursed as we were filled in on the weeks antics, we had certainly missed a few good nights! But we would soon have time to make up for it we were assured.
‘You sleep in a van? I love vans!’
Before contributing towards the next days hangover though, I had to seek out my favourite little person, Arlo. Here is a boy in every sense. He loves trains, diggers, planes, automobiles and last time I was with him he made me stop for 10 minutes to watch the bin men do their thing. If he could speak in fluent sentences I just knew he would say something like ‘What, you sleep in a van? I love vans!’.
Arlo had nothing but love for the van. We couldn’t get him out of there, especially when I showed him where the horn was and he added a few more words to his lexicon in demanding ‘more van’ and ‘see van’ for the rest of the week.
The rehearsal dinner that evening also set the tone for the rest of the time in the Chateau. I indulged in far too much of everything, talked too much and had to be guided back to the van for fear of waking up nowhere near it. In fact, one guy did just that following the wedding day, waking up in Poitiers meat market on a busy Saturday morning with no recollection of how he got there. Still, he made the best of his situation and came back with some cracking lamb chops.
The Hochziet (aka. The Big Day)
Come the big day, I think everyone had forgotten that we were all there for a wedding having already had a weeks holiday. Yet luckily for most, an early night on was had, and we all woke up to the grounds bathed in sunlight set to dazzle us for the ceremony.
Now, I should mention that I was given a role to play. Months before I had been asked to write (and read) a reading, a role that flattered and terrified me in equal measures given that I knew the bride to be a perfectionist and she didn’t want to proof read anything before hand.
I was getting even more worked up given that I had chosen to theme my reading around the German word for wedding, ‘Hochziet’, which translates to ‘high time’. I learnt this word in German class and thought that it was really romantic; the high time of ones life. A lovely product of how German practically fuses words together to make bigger words, and very fitting for Danni and Jon.
Luckily though, after the bride stole the show gracing the aisle to Lana Del Ray and we all sang to Elton John, everyone was misty eyed, full of love and receptive to my efforts.
The rest of the wedding was wonderful. There were hilarious speeches, questionable dance moves, toasts, smiles and lots of love in the chateau.
It would take too long to recount all the details, yet you can see for yourself what a beautiful day it was.
The following day the bride and groom had had the foresight to organise a hangover BBQ, which was very well received. The BBQ also had a secondary objective of finishing off the remaining booze in the chateau, a duty all took to with dedication. In fact for some, (including the groom, who insisted on a re run of the first dance) this was probably the booziest day of the week.
Yet despite the dedication, we left the next day with 6 bottles of wine to add to our champagne collection.
With the boot full of wine, (Bordeaux ironically as our next destination), we also relieved the happy couple with all of the remaining food, like skint students grateful for a handout.
Happy that we didn’t have to spend anything for days we waved them goodbye, their destination being a mini moon in Paris and ours (in polar opposites) being another week of van life….