Our Year in a Motorhome – 2016 Review

2016 motorhome tour map

Where we stopped in 2016

As we waved goodbye to 2016, sitting watching a million pounds worth of fireworks over Gibraltar, it got us thinking about just how much we had done and where we had been over the last 12 months.

We were both amazed at how much we had managed to cram in, so thought we’d share with you a little review of what we’ve been up to. Please don’t expect motorhome magazine style photos, or ones that will win prizes, this is just real life. Hopefully though, the photos will give you a taste of what you can do and see over 12 months in a motorhome in Europe.

If you want more information on any of the places we went to you can click on the links in the text below, or go to the map of all of our trips, click on the dots and they will show you a short summary of that location, and provide a link which takes you to our blog post for that place.

 

January

After Jay was Best Man at a wedding and I had my head shaved for charity, we set off on Wednesday 27 January.

We drove across France, nipping into Belgium and Luxembourg before making a bee-line for The Alps and the snow.

February

Motorhome parking overlooking Mont Blanc

Our first view of the Mont Blanc massive from a lovely little free camping spot. From here we headed for a few ski resorts to test out Zagan’s wintering ability. It turned out he was much better than we were – ending up having to come off the mountains because we were short on gas.

icicles on motorhome France

We got a bit more snow than we bargained for in Le Praz de Lys – minus 10 at night and our first chance to test out our snow chains getting out of the aire!

Snow road France

While the snow was piled high across the mountains, the roads were kept nice and clear as we slowly made our way to Chamonix to watch The Kandahar.

Ski Sunday at Kandahar

While enjoying the party at the final men’s downhill of the ski season, The Kandahar, we bumped into Ski Sunday legends Graham and Ed. After the racing we drove through the Mont Blanc tunnel into Italy.

Italy Ice Cream Machine

Spotted this rotating ice cream machine in Aosta and even with snow on the ground, it would be rude not to try a flavour or three! Next stop was Turin where we spent two days immersed in different types of culture – one day we checked out all the locations from The Italian Job film, the other we toured the Egypt museum.

March

Barolo Wine Bottles Italy

Time for some sunshine, so we headed to the vineyards where they produce Barolo wine, and soaked up the atmosphere – and a bit of liquid refreshment. After the wine region we headed east through cheese, ham and balsamic vinegar territory, stocking up along the way – we love Italians and their love of food.

Ferrari Winner Italy

From Italy’s love affair with food, to another of their passions – racing. First stop Maranello home of Ferrari, then onto Bologna to tour the Ducati museum. Finally we stopped by the track in Imola to pay our respects to Ayrton Senna.

Senna Memorial Imola Italy

Reaching Italy’s east coast Charlie made the most the sunshine on the beach in Rimini, before we nipped inland to tiny San Marino.

Sand covered dog on beach San Marino

April

We caught a ferry from Ancona to Split in Croatia, where we slow down and stopped – for two weeks in one place. We had a great time chilling out at Camping Rozac and watching dolphins swimming in the bay each morning before breakfast. We left fully recharged and ready for our trip north – a trip of over 2000 miles which would take us to the top of Norway.

Kayak in Croatia

With glorious weather, we had a good look around Croatia for a couple of weeks, seeing sites we’d missed on our previous trip here; such as the waterfalls in Krka.

Krka Waterfalls CroatiaMay

Into Slovenia, we headed north and blasted through Austria. Stopping off for a couple of days in Vienna to see the beautiful city and visit its famous art history museum.

Statue in Museum Vienna Austria

North through Slovakia, we found a lovely little brewery in Trencin and stopped to sample their wares. Then made our way into the Tatras mountains, sadly the weather wasn’t on our side, so we didn’t get to see much when we took the cable car to the top.

Beer Tasting in Slovakia White out in Tatras Mountains Slovakia

Across Poland we visited small riverside towns packed with locals enjoying the sunshine. In Warsaw we got to see a movie being made and then stopped off to see the Wolf’s Lair, one of Hitler’s headquarters. The huge concrete bunkers, which were blown up as the Germans retreated, are slowly being retaken by the forest surrounding them.

Wolfs Lair Poland

June

Crossing over into Lithuania we visited Grutas Park to see statues from the Soviet era, before heading to the capital Vilnius for a couple of days exploring the city. Finally we left the country via the Hill of Crosses.

Lenin Statue Grutas Park Hill of Crosses Latvia

Next up was Latvia where we finally reached the Baltic sea, which was surprisingly warm. Not enough for a swim, but we all got a good paddle. In Riga we undertook a challenge from our friend Adam from Europe by Camper and down some garlic beer and garlic ice cream, before retreating to a campsite for a few days to recover.

Garlic Beer in Riga

A tour around Estonia was followed by another food challenge in Tallinn, this time one we set ourselves – Ox ribs. They were huge.

Ox Ribs in Tallinn

A ferry from Tallinn took us over to Helsinki in Finland. We headed west along the Finnish coast and spent a few days exploring the Archipelago National Park, getting in some good ferry practice on their free connections. We spent Midsummer in the traditional Finnish way, on a beach with a bonfire in Uusikaupunki.

July

Free camping by lakes, we made our way to Sonkajarni for the World Wife Carrying Championship.

Wife Carrying Championship Finland

All across Finland we were under attack from mosquitoes, there were so many Jay managed to swat three on his leg with one hit. We bought a net to protect us in the van and carried on north, overcoming our British reserve and finally getting a naked sauna, after failing in our first attempt. The roads got quieter giving me a chance to have a go at driving Zagan.

Mosquito Net Finland Driving Motorhome Finland

I drove us into the Arctic circle. We crossed into the land of the midnight sun at Santa’s village in Rovaniemi, and soon after we made eye masks so we could sleep through the light nights.

Crossing Arctic Circle Finland

We crossed over into Norway and on the 15th of July we reached the top of the country and our goal for the year, Nordkapp. Arriving in a storm, we couldn’t see the other side of the car park, but overnight the weather cleared. I even got to see a pod of massive whales swimming in the sea below.

Nordkapp Norway

From there on it was south, through Norway. Free camping most of the time we took in the midnight sun on a beach. As we headed to bed around 3am, once the sun started to climb away from the horizon, locals were still playing volleyball on the beach. Surreal was our word of the day.

Midnight Sun, Norway

August

The Lofoten Islands had been bigged up by everyone we met, and luckily they didn’t disappoint. Amazing scenery, a Harley Davidson festival, a Viking Museum where we got to throw axes and row a boat and the smell of drying cod fish. We spent several days in a small motorhome community on the glorious Haukland Beach, which despite being in the Arctic Circle looked every bit as if it should be somewhere tropical.

Motorhome on Lofoten Islands Norway Haukland Beach Lofotens Norway

From halfway up Finland we were entertained by the local wildlife. We spotted one Elk and hundreds of reindeer. We followed some as they trotted along the roads, others were more happy to wander around and pose for photos.

Reindeer Norway

August

We spent two and half months in Norway, driving over mountain passes like the famous Trolls Ladder and catching a bucket load of fish as the waters bubbled around us at Saltstraumen. We swam in the Arctic circle, slept overlooked by glaciers and gazed at the still reflections in the mirror-like fjords. Sure, food and diesel are expensive, we knew that would be the case. But with a motorhome the free camping helped keep the costs down. It is a country I would thoroughly recommend anyone to visit (our practical summary might help).

Trolls Ladder Norway Rainbow over fjord Norway

We even went to Hell and back…

Hell Norway

September

In Oslo we got to step back in time, climbing aboard Roald Amundsen’s famous ship Fram which he used in his race to the South Pole. It was a privilege to be able to hold the wheel and look over a boat I heard about in my school days.

Fram Ship Oslo Norway

October

We stayed for a couple of days in the centre of Stockholm overlooking the water. We visited the museum of another famous ship, The Vasa, which was famous for sinking before it had even left Stockholm harbour. The whole city is geared up around the water. Even the local youth hostel, which was around the corner from our parking spot, was partly on a boat.

Stockholm Sweden

No trip to Sweden would be complete without a trip to Ikea, and not just any Ikea. The Ikea Museum in Almhult. The place was great fun and a real insight into its founder, Ingvar Kamprad. We even got to mock up our own catalogue cover.

Ikea Museum Sweden

Over the Oresund Bridge into Denmark, we spent a couple of days exploring Copenhagen, and the Carlsberg factory. We then headed to the Viking ship museum in Roskilde where craftsmen still make ships using the same techniques as the Vikings would have done.

Viking Ship Building Denmark

North to Aarhus where we visited the Aros Contemporary Art Museum. Neither of us are big fans of art, but the exhibits in this place really blew us away.

Boy in Aros, Arhus Denmark Rainbow Walk in Aros Arhus Denmark

A final stop off in Denmark to visit Legoland (for free, woo hoo!), before a blast back through Germany and The Netherlands. The ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich and we were back in the UK for the end of October.

Legoland Denmark

November

We spent three weeks back home visiting family and friends, getting Zagan MOT’d, check ups for us and vet visits for Charlie. We set off again on 20th November this time taking the channel tunnel to France.

Motorhome on Channel Tunnel

We drove down through France and chilled out in Anglet, just north of Biarritz, before meeting up with friends and crossing into Spain. We had a couple of days in San Sebastian sampling its amazing Pinxos, washed down with large quantities of Rioja wine. We took in the architecture of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, then partied with thousands of students in Salamanca as they celebrated their New Year two weeks early.

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao Spain Student New Year in Salamanca Spain

Christmas day saw us on Algarve coast in Portugal, braving the sea for a quick swim. Then, as I said above, New Year was spent watching the fireworks over Gibraltar Rock. A fantastic way to end a truly amazing year.

Christmas Day Swim Portugal Gibraltar New Year Fireworks

And if all that wasn’t enough to give you itchy feet and get out there in your motorhome, the best part of the whole trip was the people we met along the way. There are too many to name, but each person touched us in a different way, either by teaching us something new or by helping us to grow and develop as we travel. Thank you to each and everyone of you, and happy 2017!

Ju x

 

New Year 2017 below The Rock of Gibraltar
Ten Miles Running, Vila Real de Santo Antonio
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14 Comments on Our Year in a Motorhome – 2016 Review

  1. andrew dawson // January 1, 2017 at 7:56 pm // Reply

    Amazing year guys, and fantastic to read about so many of the places we are hoping to visit when we set off in the next week or so. Just waiting for some parts to fix the gas struts on our pull down bed in our Hymer, then we’ll be heading south via the Chunnel through France to Spain and Portugal before heading all the way back up north to (hopefully) Nordkapp. Your stories have been inspiring and insightful in equal measure, thanks so much for sharing your adventures and advice. Hope 2017 is as great for you as 2016!
    Andy and Sarah

  2. What a privilege, to have the freedom to explore like that. I realise that it’s easy to become blase after a few years on the road but I wonder, would you now get “itchy feet” if you returned to “normality”?

    We only bought Humberto in August, and we only get to stay away at weekends, five nights being the maximum so far I think, but already we have started to feel a weight lifting, once we leave our driveway.

    I can’t imagine what it will be like to leave the driveway with no throught of returning for months (especially as we would be returning to a whole new driveway).

    I feel like we are putting in the “Hard miles” at the moment, only ever experiencing Autumn and Winter in grey England. Our reward will be in June/july when we get to do our first “Long trip” (don’t laugh) of 3 weeks in France. Hopefully plans will be in motion to follow in your wheel-tracks by then. It would be nice not to be constantly dealing with muddy shoes though.

    Keep on keeping on. Remember not to leave your heating on MAX (not MIN) whilst you go out for the day by mistake like I did this weekend. FYI. You may be interested to know that you can raise the internal temperature of a Hymer 544 to 30DegC even though it’s freezing outside!! It does however beat-up your batteries significantly.

    Happy New Year J&J

    Lee at http://www.gohumberto.com

    • Thanks Lee, happy 2017 to you guys too! Good to know you can heat your van to sauna temperatures if needs be.

      Hey, this is a strange old life we’re living here. We have few peers doing the same thing at our age to compare notes with, so we’re just pushing on with it. The idea behind the blog is to give as honest a representation of our lives, in particular the travel side, while retaining a degree of privacy of course. From time to time this means fessing up about stuff which we know for sure will look quite bizarre to our friends in the ‘real world’, where having unlimited opportunity to travel isn’t conceivable.

      In a way we’re perhaps not ‘real travel bloggers’, as if we were I suspect we’d not risk turning away all of our readers by going on about being depressed while being financially free and having a life of sheer luxury. But stuff it, we’ve bought ourselves this level of control and are able to be as honest as we like. Depression’s what it is: it isn’t being fed up or moping about, it’s a shitty illness which affects folks for god-knows what reasons. Having it feels a little like you’re going mad and unless it’s happened to you, it’s almost impossible to comprehend. We’ve both had it, and we’re both determined to keep the bloody thing at bay.

      There is no returning to normality for us. If and when we return to the UK we’ll be forever changed; we already were after the last 2 year journey. There is no ‘going back’. Conversations with workmates took on a surreal aspect to them when we returned to the office, as we no longer associated with what they were saying. Our view of luxury, money, time, life, the universe and everything was altered irrevocably. Being back in the UK would call a halt on our current mode of travel, and might even see us picking up contract work for a while, but the ‘ourtour life’ will carry on in one guise or another as long as we can. We might find ourselves gearing up to travel New Zealand, North and South America, doing a backpacking trip to India, who knows. Those kinds of travels are awkward while we have Charlie though, so for the time being have been placed on the back burner.

      We’ve walked up the Gib rock today, looking across the straight to the mountains of North Africa. The plan’s to get the ferry over in the next couple of days and I’ve got a good feeling now we’re close to it; I’m nervous, a good sign. Morocco’s not an easy place to travel, more from a personal perspective that the logistics of the thing. The presence of poverty reflects a powerful light on just how privileged almost all of us are in Western Europe and takes some getting used to. We’ll see how we get on with it this time around.

      Cheers, Jay

      P.S. Three weeks would have been unthinkable for me when I worked in Corporate Land, so no, I’m not laughing. The only person I knew who was allowed three weeks off in one go had to spend 6 months away from his family running a project in the Netherlands before he was allowed to spend such a long time away – he went to New Zealand as I recall, and we were all jealous. Three weeks away sounds cracking, and I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic time fella.

  3. Gordon MacKenzie // January 2, 2017 at 4:24 pm // Reply

    A very Happy New Year to you both,
    Thanks once again for sharing your travel experiences with us and best wishes for more exciting adventures
    In 2017. Been reading you blog for a couple of years now and we are currently, not far from you near Almeria on our first “big trip” (3 months) to Spain & Portugal. 2 months in now and starting to feel a nervous about returning north !
    Heading down towards Gibraltar on Thursday or Friday, but guess you’ll probably be across to Morocco by then or we might have bumped into you ! Good luck with the marathon 😎😎
    Best wishes from Gordon & Margaret

    • Hi guys, we’re heading over on the 4th, Insh’Allah. Thanks for your message and we will do our best on the streets of Marrakesh! Have fun, cheers, Jay

  4. Hi there,
    we were up the Gib rock today! we’ve visited morocco before, a fantastic country, but not in our motorhome and as i looked across the water it all came flooding back. we are currently in tarifa heading up to El Rocio via Cadiz for the 3 Kings Festival, on the 5th and thought of heading to Portugal but i’m sorely tempted to fling on back south and head to Africa. you’ve got my head going! we both thoroughly enjoy your blog and it has truly inspired us along the way. we left that there london in Aug 2016 and haven’t looked back. after a few initial hic-cups with the boy (van) we keep kissing, hugging, kicking and coaxing him around and up and to and fro towards things we would never have seen, without making the initial plunge / gulp.
    keep on keeping on…
    our warmest wishes,
    phil & linda

    • Ha, incredible! We loved the monkeys, amazing to see them so close up. Ah, the pull of Africa, the Arab-Berber world, Mountains, deserts, oases, the spices, donkeys and the most appalling campsite toilets! Give us a shout if you turn south… Cheers, Jay

  5. Tracy & Della // January 2, 2017 at 8:01 pm // Reply

    Happy New Year guys and massive thanks for all the posts. We have been following your blog for just over a year now and looking at your summary of 2016 reminded us of all your fantastic adventures. We have been perpetual travellers for almost 11 years now and can fully relate to a lot of things you say especially the irrevocable changes and inability to relate to certain things on our (often short lived), returns to our home base in Bristol. Our priorities have changed so much over the past 11 years and, as far as we are concerned for the better! We have been fortunate to travel the globe living like a local for the most part. We had a camper van for a couple of years and loved every minute of our extended trips in Europe, so much so that we plan to head off in the not too distant without an end date! In the meantime 2017 has adventures a plenty as we have just finalised an itinerary which will take us to Cuba, Costa Rica and Nicaragua in March & April. We are also hoping to get to India before the end of the year.
    If you need any tips on NZ or Oz don’t hesitate to ask. We have contacts there. 😊

  6. Came across your blog while reading another thread regarding cost of living in mh while traveling. How people cope on low budgets.
    We are about to venture over to France/Spain/Portugal ending in Rome Italy to meet up with family for month. Yes I’m retired (but with no big pension suported by state pension.) My wife is disabled but I’m hopping that the freedom we have once we are away will convince her that traveling could help with her 30 year suffering in this climat.
    This is not intended to be a moan or crumble, but it’s difficult trying to explain what benefit can be gained by broadening ones horizons.
    Your blog has done good!
    Thank you and wish your travel fare and wide!
    Jez, Wendy and Bobby (four legs)

    • Big thanks for taking the time to write that Jez. The benefits are huge. Just keep your eyes, ears and mind open and in they pour. Cheers, fun travels, Jay

  7. Andrew Micklem // January 3, 2017 at 8:26 pm // Reply

    I read your blogs because they are so honest. Not just a travel blog, a life blog, warts and all looking at what independence really means. It has inspired me to make changes, many thanks!
    Andrew

  8. Thank you for allowing me to share your dreams. Happy New Year to you both

  9. Linda Hathaway // January 8, 2017 at 12:20 pm // Reply

    Happy new year to all three of you, I hope 2017 brings another interesting and exciting year for you. I love reading your oh so honest blog of life, warts and all. It’s not one of those fantasy Facebook trips where we only get to learn about the good bits. All the best guys.
    Linda

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