Europe in a Toyota Hilux

I could write a lot more about this trip but as I’ve already written over 3,600 words of quick notes, I don’t think you need any more! The reason for this trip was to celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday. We had debated a trip to New York, or Cuba, but in the end decided on a long European road trip instead. We drove a total of 4,259km (2,646mi) over 14 days, visiting or passing through 9 different countries. Each day, we played a game to find the Day number somewhere in the location we were at that day – my favourite being Day 10, where we photographed the 10th hairpin bend of the Silvretta Pass. There are also a number of photographs of Mum in shops as she can only be enticed out of bed happily each morning if there’s a cup of coffee waiting for her. Hunt For Milk became another game! The whole trip really was a once in a lifetime experience. I’m pleased to say that this trip ended up altering Mum’s views on holidays forever as this was her first ever road trip! Music was also a big part of the trip, so I’ve included 3 songs for each day that we listened to on that day (in total, we probably listened to an average of 75 songs a day!).

A HUGE thanks to RAMP magazine and Toyota for arranging the Hilux for the trip! You can still pick up the issue with the story in!

Day 1 – The Start – Home to Harwich

So, we’re off! After a quick lunch and Sainsbury’s stop for snacks and supplies, we headed west towards Harwich. Headed off to a recommended place for dinner – The Hannover – where we were greeted by a couple of very, very drunken, patriotic men. Managed to find out these pleasant chaps were lorry drivers but from their very slurred words, we hoped they weren’t driving in the near future! The landlord was telling us all about Harwich’s sausage festival and shanty weekends! I had to Google what a shanty was. Apparently it’s a band. He also told us we could get a good dinner (if pricier than themselves, but they weren’t serving) at the Alma down the road. Great little nautical pub with more great characters in and quirky loo signs! Finally made our way to the ferry where we found our cabin along the many hundreds along the corridor. Mum shotgunned the biggest bunk bed, obviously. Had a drink in the ferry bar before being rocked to sleep by the gentle rumblings of the boat. Dad’s anti-snore nose strips seem to work, which is really good news.

Songs Listened to:

– George Harrison – My Sweet Lord

– David Bowie – Heros

– Johnny Cash – A Boy Named Sue

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Day 2 – Ferry, Hague, Hannover.

The ferry’s tannoy alarm tune is Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds – I’ve been woken up to worse noises. It was the only pleasurable thing about waking up at UK time of 5.30. Quick shower and breakfast on the ferry before sitting in an hour long queue for customs. We ended up chatting to a father, daughter and son in law about their own road trip in a Rolls Royce Corniche, E-Type Jag and Aston DB5. Onwards to The Hague! I had to refresh myself on driving on the wrong side of the road (directional mistakes were made…) before finding a quiet street to park up in. Wandered around for an hour or so before heading back to the car for our 4.5 hour drive to Hannover. A caffeine stop was desperately needed. We had a little sing along to Stand By Me with the serving lady. Arrived in Hannover, which currently seems to have decided that it would be a good idea to resurface every single road in the city. Manage to do a 10 point turn at a dead end I thought I could go down, successfully parked, then off to dinner. Decided to eat schnitzel and beer, as you do as a tourist in Germany. Turns out we’re staying in the dodgy end of town with more the sex shops and strip clubs than Amsterdam’s Red Light district. Still, I have a cool view of the church I’m going to shoot at tomorrow before we leave!

Songs listened to:

– Prince – Kiss

– The Velvet Underground – Pale Blue Eyes

– The Coasters – Down in Mexico

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Day 3 – Hannover, Colditz, Prague.

Less lovely than Bob Marley, this morning we were woken up by machinery digging up even more of the road in Hannover. Still, it allowed us to leave early and journey onto our next stop! However, it turns out that Hannover is like a maze when trying to leave the city using a SatNav and half the roads are closed. We nearly got squashed by a tram… Today was always going to be a long day of driving so we decided to detour slightly for lunch and a driver change. Mum and Dad got excited about this place called Colditz that everyone else seems to have heard of but me. I came to realise that my lack of knowledge definitely made me the odd one out… Mum and Dad tried to find the rear view camera to clean after a bit of a wet and muddy drive, resulting in some rather funny photos as I sat in the driver’s seat. Drove through a bit of a scary storm with lots of rain. Finally made it to Prague where we met my brother, Adam, and his girlfriend, Anoushka. Karin, our apartment host, was lovely! And the apartment was awesome. Adam and I tried to secretly do Dad a birthday cake but failed on the candles. The result looked like we were celebrating Dad’s 90th instead of 60th. Adam suggested we headed up to the Petřín Lookout Tower for dusk which was really lovely. Ended up getting pizza at 11pm. Anoushka had never heard of the fun pub game of seeing how many beer mats you could stack and flip off the table. I don’t know if its ever been given am official name…I won, successfully flipping 13 beer mats and catching them again. Late night, very tired.

Songs listened to:

– Young Fathers – Typhoon

– Alabama Shakes – Always Alright

– NEEDTOBREATHE – Nothing Left To Lose

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Day 4 – Prague, Kutna Hora

Woke up early again to yet more diggers. Does everyone in Germany and the Czech Republic think it’s a great idea to start digging up roads at the crack of dawn?! Dad and I left the flat in the early morning to get shots of the morning street light and people going to work. Looking back on the trip, that morning was definitely one of my absolute highlights of the whole trip. Prague in the early morning sun is absolutely gorgeous. The city has easily become one of my favourite cities in the world. Two hours later, we headed back to the flat to get the others and headed out to grab some food. On our hunt for breakfast, we came across the Statue of Franz Kafka, which if you’ve not seen, is really mesmerising to watch for a while. After a croissant and coffee, we headed off to see the famous astronomical clock. I’ve read a number of books about the clock and was looking forward to seeing it, but you quickly realise that all of these iconic places are going to be teeming with tourists. But as it turns out, I quite like photographing tourists! I think there’s something about the looks of awe, the funny faces when trying to take a photo, or the frozen smiles of selfies. Hopped on a tram (and then walked many steps) up to the castle. Lots more tourists but views were stunning. Walked down to Charles bridge (even MORE tourists…) and headed down the first side street we could see to escape. Decided at this point that it was time to leave, so onwards to Kutna Hora. We’re staying at a cafe called Café Havlíček which is really lovely. Tomorrow we’re seeing a famous church decorated with bones (it sounds a bit…strange) and St. Barbara’s Church which is on the hill of Kutna Hora.

Songs listened to:

– Hozier – To Be Alone

– Semisonic – Secret Smile

– Puddle of Mud – She Hates Me

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Day 5 – Kutna Hora, Brno, Limbach Slovakia

First full night sleep that wasn’t woken by diggers in the morning! Hurrah! Headed out early in the morning again with Dad to photograph the truck before coming back for breakfast. Great scrambled egg. Once packed, headed to St Barbara’s Church which was pretty impressive. Looked great on the hill, too, when I was getting shots of the truck in the morning. Afterwards, we headed to Kutna Hora’s bone church, Sedlec Ossuary, which was pretty damn creepy. I found it slightly unnerving as the thought process to decorate with bones must have been slightly crazy. ‘You know what this section needs? A decorative shield made out of lovely looking hip bones!’ Off to Brno 2 hrs away for lunch which was pretty nice for a quick stop. If you want cheap discount shoes (I’m not talking designer, here…) then Brno is your place. Lots and lots of cheap shoe shops. Went to SKOG for coffee and cake – which was lovely vegan place. We walked past a man singing about goosebumps. I’m not sure he knew exactly what goosebumps were, but his singing was quite good. The city also has a cool astronomical clock. Continued onto Limbach, Slovakia. Drove up our first set of fun, twisty roads! Our host is a delightful lady, but can’t speak an absolute word of English. Lots of hand gestures were used. I think she was trying to tell us a lot more information than we actually needed, such as, if we wanted to eat fried fish, there’s a great place in the village. Adam tried to use Google Translate automatic to help us understand a bit more. I had to stifle my laughter when it said that she had asked ‘Do you need me to give you a stomach ulcer?’ – honestly! We then laughed a lot over dinner about past family holidays; things that went wrong, amazing things we saw, funny things that happened, and adventures we still wanted to do.

Songs listened to:

– George Harrison – I Dig Love

– Júníus Meyvant – Signals

– Francis and the Lights – Friends (feat. Bon Iver)

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Day 6 – Limbach, Bratislava, Vienna

Woke up in Limbach and headed straight for Bratislava. Had to turn around after 10 minutes as Mum had forgotten her beloved pillow that she had just, the day before, said how it was the best thing she had brought on the trip. So we turned around to go and rescue the forgotten pillow. Happy Mum. Stopped to check out the cool surrounding vineyards before we left. Continued to Bratislava, where there’s a bunch of statues you can visit. Mum rubbed the top of the Cumil sculpture, which is of a man appearing from a manhole. Beautiful architecture in parts, and a famous blue church, called the Church of St. Elisabeth. As the Toyota is blue, this worked perfectly for photos! Whilst there, I got a really touching message from a bride, thanking me from the photographs. I showed mum and dad the message, which made mum cry, whilst dad teased her, resulting in some funny photos! Drove to Vienna! Apartment is really lovely, despite having to climb the 160 steps up to the flat each time… I’ve got a mountain climb job in the winter so it’s good training! Went out for a very expensive meal (everywhere is expensive in Vienna) and on the walk back at dusk, watched a man play beautiful cello in middle of Michaelerplatz. Highlight of my day.

Songs listened to:

– Canned Heat – Going Up The Country

– Caamp – All the Debts I Owe

– Procol Harum – A Whiter Shade Of Pale

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Day 7 – Vienna, bye bye Adam and Anoushka, Hallstatt

Woke up in Vienna, Adam and Anoushka went to the market. Didn’t buy anything as it was too expensive. Headed out to breakfast and looked at a couple of places (that were too expensive) before settling on a slightly less but still expensive place. It was a disappointing breakfast but was a cool place as they were baking cakes and you could look through the glass at them. Dad was still hungry so, at 11am, went for a McDonalds burger. We all wanted to do our own things so decided to split up for a bit. I chose to visit the Austrian National Library – my jaw dropped at the first sight inside. It is the most stunningly beautiful library I have ever set foot in. Absolutely loved wandering around listening to some calming music and people watching, who were all in equal awe. Met the others for lunch. This was our last day with Adam and Anoushka, so we dropped them off at their new digs. We were all staying in caravans that night, them in Vienna, us in Hallstatt. Their’s was in a car park on the side of a main road. After a 3 hour drive, ours was at a picturesque spot nestled between mountains at the foot of Hallstatt lake. I think we know who got the better deal..! We had read horror stories about the owners of the place so were worried about getting back before curfew of 9.30! Whizzed out for a pizza before getting back (at 9.15…) to then sit on the porch of my caravan, popping open a bottle of Prosecco and listening to a small group of very talented Germans, singing and playing banjo. Really lovely. Laughed a lot.

Songs listened to:

– Leif Vollebekk – Off the Main Drag

– The Bones of J.R. Jones – 13 Kinds

– BRONCHO – Class Historian

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Day 8 – Hallstatt, various mountain roads, Salzburg

Woke up to the sight of the beautiful lake with mist over the mountains. Decided I was going to do my first ever lake swim. The water was NOT warm..! Got into bikini, Mum filmed, Dad photographed, and I ran in – it was very, very far from elegant. Did 10 strokes and then ran out again. I absolutely loved it!! It was bloody cold but I’d do it again! The nasty park owner man was really nice to mum and I when we left, purposely shouting after us to have a lovely day! Very surprised. Packed up, onwards to Salzburg via the wiggliest road we could find, despite it taking us over an hour longer to get there. It was worth every extra minute. Arrived in Salzburg and headed out. Simply relaxed, drank red wine, and edited some of the trip’s photos. Dinner at a burger place, scoop of gelato next door for pudding, then back to the hotel for an early night. I can guarantee we’ll be woken tomorrow by the church bell 10ft away from our window going off.

Songs listened to:

– Trevor Hall – Many Roads

– Lou Reed – Perfect Day

– The Black Keys – Your Touch

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Day 9 – Salzburg, Krimml Waterfalls, Innsbruck

Today has been a lot of driving today but as they’re some of the most beautiful views I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing, none of us minded at all! We visited the Krimml Waterfalls, which is the highest waterfall in Austria. The spray from the falls is awesome but if you get close, you get very wet! It was funny to watch the many teenage Instagram girls all repeating the same shot on the same rock. As it turned out, that rock was pretty awesome for photos, so we went and did the exact same. Had a healthy McDonalds dinner as we headed to Innsbruck and arrived quite late. Mum and Dad wandered around the town in the eve, whilst I stayed and edited in the room. I was quite glad for the peace!

Songs listened to:

– Shakey Graves – Late July [Live]

– Alex Turner – Stuck on the puzzle

– Bombay Bicycle Club – Rinse Me Down

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Day 10 – Breakfast in Innsbruck, lunch in Lichtenstein, Dinner in Neuschwansteinstraße

I was a little excited about today as today was the day we drove down one of the best roads in Europe – the Silvretta Pass. 22.3km long, 34 hairpin bends, 2,032m high. I was worried the road would be top to tail with cars and bikes wanting to travel along it however, I was pleasantly surprised. Every corner produced a ‘Weeeee!’ from me, a ‘This is great!!’ from dad, and a ‘Slow down, I feel a bit sick!’ from mum. I would absolutely love to go back there on my motorbike. Once out the other side, many photographs later, we decided to nip into Lichtenstein for lunch, carrying on with our aim of 3 meals in 3 countries. It turns out there’s not really much there and everything is rather expensive, being on the boarder of Switzerland. Still, we enjoyed lunch then began to head towards our final stop. After accidentally dipping into Switzerland for 8km, we were back on track. I stopped to take a shot of the Truck and noticed a bloody big storm not far away. It was shortly realised that we’d experience the full force of the storm. I’m a pretty confident driver, but driving down the autobahn, I realised that this really wasn’t safe. Every single car pulled over and stopped in the emergency lane. I’ve never been so genuinely concerned that hail would crack a windscreen. I thought we’d get out and see the whole truck peppered! I felt sorry for some of the aluminium caravans… Once the worst had passed, we carried on. The temperature outside had dropped 14 degrees and looked like a winter road. It was awesome!! Mum didn’t share my excitement… We stayed in a quirky hotel at base of Neuschwansteinstraße Castle. Had dinner in town, chatted with a couple of Dutch people who were heading to Venice, then couple of Germans who were cycling all around the area! Overall, a successful and eventful day!

Songs listened to:

– Marvin Gaye – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

– Fakear – All Of Us

– Hot Chocolate – Every 1’s A Winner

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Day 11 – Neuschwansteinstraße, Stuttgart, Burg-Eltz-Weg

We debated going into the actual castle as it was Walt Disney’s inspiration for the Disney Castle however, from the many, many tourists heading up even from the early morning, we decided against it and instead headed to the Marienbrucke bridge, which is where many icon shots of the castle are taken. This was free and much more worthwhile! Even though it was early, it was already getting very warm. Us Brits don’t do very well with heat so we quickly headed back to the car to start our long drive north. At one point, the car told us that it was 37 degrees outside!! We stopped in Stuttgart briefly for lunch before heading to our B&B in Burg-Eltz-Weg. Wandered around the sleepy town and had dinner in Greek restaurant on the river front. Turns out we know more Greek than we do German, which is saying something about how much German we know.

Songs listened to:

– The Black Keys – Everlasting Light

– The Arcs – Stay In My Corner

– Caamp – See the World

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Day 12 – Cochem, Cologne, Brussels

Drove to Cochem and walked up the castle, which is a really gorgeous building and the iconic feature of Cochem’s view. Drove to Cologne and met with my friend Katalina for lunch. She toured us around the delights of Cologne including the cathedral and more historic area, before we said our farewells and drove to Brussels. Brussels became my second favourite city after Prague and as luck would have it, we arrived on the day before National Belgium Day. This meant that the evening before (and I’m sure, the weekend ahead, if we had stayed!), the city was full of life. Locals and tourists everywhere, drinking, laughing, chatting, people spilling out onto the streets with their drinks as the bars were already so full. The atmosphere was really fun and welcoming. We went to check out the famous Manneken Pis statue, learning that the statue had been there since 1618! We could then understand the reason why it was the city’s pride and joy!

Songs listened to:

– The Vaccines – Handsome

– Bob Dylan – Lay, Lady, Lay

– The Hives – Hate To Say I Told You So

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Day 13 – Brussels, The Atomium, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hook of Holland

Early morning wander around Brussels with Dad was lovely, some great characters still in the streets from the night before! Our wonderful hotel staff recommended a place to enjoy great Belgium waffles for breakfast. I’ve never had a better excuse to have what I’d class as a dessert for breakfast! We then drove to The Atomium; the 102m tall stainless steel sculpture of a unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times. I’d seen the sculpture in loads of photos in the past, so this was quite a cool thing to see in the flesh. Next we headed towards Antwerp to see its gorgeous Central Station. It’s a truly magnificent building, and I can see why painters such as Alvaro Castagnet enjoy painting scenes from inside. After lunch, we walked to old end of Antwerp,  and I pointed out the boat that I’d unexpectedly slept on back in May on another road trip adventure. We stopped for a quick photo and the beautiful Port House before driving to Rotterdam. As a major music lover myself, I wanted to be able to say I’d visited all of three locations sung about in The Beautiful South’s, Rotterdam (Or Anywhere). We knew it wasn’t meant to be the most beautiful of cities, so we read up and learnt about the Rotterdam Blitz whilst drinking coffee with some locals. We arrived late at our B&B near Hook of Holland where mum and dad went out and enjoyed a drink, whilst I edited with a good cup of a tea and my headphones!

Songs listened to:

– Jack Johnson – Never Fade

– Lumineers – Dead Sea

– The Beautiful South – Rotterdam (Or Anywhere)

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Day 14 – The End. Ferry, home.

It felt so weird getting into my own bed again! After such a long and wonderful trip. After having breakfast with some other guests, we headed to the ferry early, I caught up with all editing, mum and dad played 5 games of scrabble (3-2 to mum), and then managed to be the absolute last one off the boat. We drove the 3 hours home in the pouring rain and pulled into our village at about midnight, where the warm lights of our local pub, the Elephant and Castle, welcomed us. It was a familiar, comforting view. We all slept very well that night! The following day, dad and I couldn’t resist having a little fun with the truck whilst we still had it, driving through the local ford and greeting the local herd of sheep!

Songs listened to:

– Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here

– Noah And The Whale – The First Days Of Spring

– Sam Cooke – Bring It On Home to Me

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