A Bedford van around Europe
There were four of us: my wife Liz, my friend Pete and his new wife Julia. We aimed to travel round Europe for the summer. Pete had bought an old Bedford Van and we worked out a loose itinerary.
We set off in our beat-up van with four bunks and basic stove much to the bemusement of Julia’s parents. We gathered that it wasn’t quite their idea of a honeymoon.
All went well. We caught the ferry and toodled around France, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. In Paris we discovered the disadvantages of not having a toilet on board. The cafés wouldn’t let you use the toilet unless you bought something. First thing in the morning was fun – ordering coffee cross-legged.
The plan was then to head down to the tip of Italy, ferry across to Greece and work our way back through Yugoslavia. That did not work quite to plan.
Italy was great. We took the scenic route on the old road, up and down mountains on the windy road. We had time and saw all the little villages. Besides, we did not have money for the tolls.
At the top of a mountain the van would not start. We tried rolling it down and bump-starting it but it still would not catch. In the end we free-wheeled it down the mountain to the little village at the bottom. It was a bit hairy hurtling round the corners with no engine engaged. The van veered around a little and leaned rather precariously. But we got down in one piece, free-wheeled as far as possible and pushed it to a little garage in the centre of the village fronting on to the sea.
The mechanics, who could not speak a word of English, seemed quite amused at the sight of a quaint old Bedford van with its four colourfully attired, long-haired characters. The sixties had not yet arrived in this part of Italy. But they were very friendly. They helped push the van on to the ramp and began pulling the engine to bits.
In the afternoon, with bits of engine all over the place, one of the mechanics managed to explain that we had burnt a valve out and that they would have to order a part from England. That would take a week.
That was a bit of a bummer. That was our home he was talking about.
We were homeless.
We managed to convey this to the mechanics who kept smiling and shaking their heads.
It seemed that they were happy for us to live in the van up on the ramp in their garage. They let us use their toilet and sink.
All was good. We had our home back.
For a week we lived on a ramp in an Italian garage. All day we’d mess about on the beach and in the sea and at night they’d wave to us and lock us in for the night.
I can imagine the tales and gossip concerning the four British Hippies living in their garage. They found it very amusing.
The part duly arrived. The van was mended and we resumed our adventure. Pisa, Venice, Rome and Florence were all, strangely, extremely Italian and different. We couldn’t afford to eat much, even the starters in the restaurants were beyond our means, but feasted on melon and fruit.
There was no time to go to Greece though.
We saved that for another day and headed back to spend a few days in Paris.
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