Three Road Trip Ideas to Crumple into a Ball

Last time I wrote was to document the summer after a 24-hour corona-special voyage from Birmingham to Munich. I’d just finished a degree in the UK and had gone to squat in my partner’s flat, to provide moral support while he finished his thesis, but mainly, for the pretzels.

With COVID-19 border restrictions still in place, getting into Germany had included an overnight ferry crossing from Harwich to the Hook of Holland, during which I’d amused myself by anti-baccing my cabin into a soggy oblivion. I’d spent June through to August working from home from Munich. It was a summer punctuated by blundering attempts to learn German, and some of my less glamorous moments, which can be found here.

In retrospect, this was a period of blissful ignorance. We’d got months to plan for the moment Valentin’s course finished and we could begin travelling. The impact of COVID-19 seemed less and less visible in Munich. Restaurants were filling, and the English Garden once again heaving with beer bellies. We’d begun to dream of Moscow or St Petersburg as the start of the journey. In a fit of misplaced enthusiasm, I’d even revived my Rosetta Stone account.

By the time we were due to leave, it was the end of October. I was back in the UK failing my driving test and the possibility of lockdown was looming over Europe – thoughts of gallivanting along the Orient Express were promptly canned. Instead, we’d decided that Valentin would take the van and drive down to the UK, where we’d spend the winter in the highlands. This was a Friday.

The following Monday, I was on what looked like the flight of the damned out of Birmingham, fleeing the sudden and impending 6th November lockdown – I’ve had more relaxing weekends.

I woke up on the Saturday morning with one of the two books you can rely on borrowing from your Dad – The Good Pub Guide (extra points if it’s for a year prior to 2007) and any compilation of National Trust must-sees. I had the latter, taking great joy in circling the prehistoric sites I would drag Valentin to.

At the breakfast table, my father was telling us yet again about his boyhood romps around Glastonbury Tor, when someone’s absent reading of The Guardian unearthed the promise of a new lockdown. A phone call with Valentin prompted a change in plans – I would take a bus to central Europe, whereupon we’d travel down to Greece or Corsica to do some hiking.

I was upstairs realising I couldn’t book a Flixbus anymore, when a clamouring of voices downstairs warned me that a lockdown date of the 6th had been predicted, with some airlines withdrawing flights as soon as Wednesday.

That evening, my sister and her boyfriend were staying for the first time since March. In the living room, I was half playing Pictionary half submerged in flight comparison sites, a cacophonic mess of passport numbers, dates and types of tree. My sister’s boyfriend was rapidly circling what looked like a broccoli with toes. Not famed for multitasking, I ended up paying through an obscure, Hong Kong booking provider, which promised it may or may not guarantee the issuing of a ticket confirmation image, which definitely could not probably be used as an e-ticket in, up to, or beyond 24 hours.

I packed late into the night for an indefinite period of time in an unknown country. By midnight, I had no ticket for the Monday morning flight, and was disheartened, on surveying the suitcase, to find a pair of flip flops, a litre of Somerset cider, and some ski gloves.

In accordance with sod’s law, the only affordable flight had been on the Monday – my one working day. Inevitably, I had online teaching all afternoon with an additional office hour appointment at 8:30am. This slot was put in place for A Level students to contact me online for help with their course. These are sixteen-year olds forced to read Hardy in social isolation – naturally, no one turns up.

Unfortunately, there was no way of avoiding a clash. Prioritising the afternoon’s work, I’d plumped for an early morning flight to Munich. My dear mother was stationed in mission control ready to open the 8:30 Zoom call so that my presence would be recorded.

I am confident that my technophobia is genetic. With this is in mind, I had left her a series of patronising instructions stuck to the fridge. Inside the plane, I was relieved to receive a text to say she’d infiltrated the complex. I could only hope she’d turned the camera off.

I arrived in Munich airport early, undecided as to what was worse – the vigorous testing of my gag reflex during the COVID test, or the text informing me that, for the first time in eight weeks, a student had actually ventured forth to my office hour. It was sadly the only occasion on which they would have been greeted by a flustered retired woman in the process of knitting a sock.

I spent the next few weeks with Valentin’s family, living out of a bag and planning and unplanning for travel as Europe gradually implemented tighter restrictions. Many a night was spent doubled up over a laptop like a couple of pigeons around a BLT, on the screen, a map of the world, colour-coded by which areas hadn’t gone into lockdown.

Greece had appeared to Valentin like a ray of sunshine – a green zone, a plan C. It seemed the only place in Europe to remain in control of the virus. On the advice of his parents, we would drive down to Italy and get the 16-hour ferry crossing to Patras, from there, exploring the Peloponnese. Valentin’s family, (who have kindly lent us the campervan) dug out maps and guidebooks, campsite recommendations and carpark apps. A matter of days before we were due to leave, Greece went into lockdown. 

In the face of organisational meltdown, we got in the van and just started driving. We would take a road trip around Germany. A month into the journey, and with a bag of stuff I’d packed for Greece, it’s somehow still working. 

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s