It was the end of March when Covid lockdowns kicked off around the world and I was one of the many, many van lifers told to leave Portugal and make their way home (in a friendly way though). I genuinely believed it would be a couple of weeks and then things would be back to normal, so I decided to stick around and not opt for the 24 hour drive to France, for a ferry home, like the Irish embassy suggested. I went with my gut feeling and looking back now I've zero regrets.
Luckily my friend Susie who I had met in 2013 in India, kindly invited me to park at her beautiful place in the Spanish countryside, 7 hours from where i was in Portugal. Having slept one night in the forest and ripping my window off the bedroom side of the van, I drove most of the way towards spain with nothing but a plastic bag blowing in the wind, to cover the gaping hole. I stayed at a truckers rest stop when the sun finally set and a storm set in, as well as the tiredness. The rain leaked in the window onto my bed and I just wanted to be somewhere safe finally. The next 7 weeks in Happyland with Susie, Teto and their pets, was so peaceful, fun and enlightening. I had so much free time and space to develop my yoga and meditation practice, catch up with my friends and live for each day.
When the lockdown started to ease on May 11th, I could leave and travel around the province of Caceres, where I was, in the region of Extremedura. I headed to a couple of places including a secluded lake side spot in the forest which was so tranquil, that I stayed for five days just enjoying the peace and nature.
Ages before the this had happened, I had the idea to spend winter in Portugal and summer in Norway or Sweden, but now I figured I would head back to Portugal once borders opened and finish where I left off. So my plan was to hang around the forest until that happened, until one morning I read something about the rules and regulations, regarding campers, and that they were going to introduce fines etc. for campers parking near beaches and limited access to beaches aswell, so I thought well why not head to Sweden where the summer will be more accessible this year, considering they have had no lockdown. It's a long drive I thought, but when I saw a Ukranian couple posting that they needed a ride to Germany, I took it as a sign.
I messaged them and within a couple of days I had driven to Salamanca (where I met a fellow Irish camper in his van, having spent 6 weeks in quarantine in the carpark), Valladolid and onwards.
Julia, Stan, Gimli and myself headed off from Valladolid and encountered a 6 hour breakdown on the highway, meaning we had to be towed and brought to Burgos to get Maggie's battery recharged. Luckily a lovely Romanian mechanic helped us immensely and we were on our way in no time.
We drove the long stretch to Urrugne, France just over the border, which we crossed at almost midnight. I'm not sure if we took the wrong road but where we heard there are normally no police, we were stopped and questioned and our passports were checked. After telling them I was heading 'home', and them not even asking about the Ukranians plans, they let us on our way. The next day we drove to an area close to Limoges where we stayed lakeside before heading off to Vezlay the next day to visit a friend of theirs. After a brief walk around the UNESCO town of Vezlay, we headed down the incredible tiny french country roads to end up at their friend's house. That evening we met some friends of friends around the campfire, drank Burgundy wine in Burgundy withe the backdrop of live bass and clarinet. We stayed another night, and met even more people that night, I counted at least 15 new friends including a couple hiking through a section of France, looking for somewhere to camp and who were invited to come and stay at this place. We had champagne, more Burgundy wine, and I even cracked out the rum id brought from the Caribbean, which everyone was excited about. As the night went on, we cooked over the fire, chatted, laughed and played music. I vaguely remember playing the drums that evening, if it was good or not is another question. After our great visit to this much needed social house, we headed to Germany via Luxembourg, as the borders were open and I had a friend who had just done this trip. We drove right through Luxembourg via the highway with no issues at all, and onwards toward Dasburg in Germany on the open road. We stopped at a motorhome area where I planned to sleep that night, and my friends were picked up from there and taken to their final destination.
After some beautiful nature trails and exploring, me and Gimli headed to a very quiet camping area about half an hour from there and chilled for the night. Surrounded by more trails to take Gimli, it was an ideal place to stop. Next we headed north to Cologne where I initially got lost and followed signs to a camp site which charged me 12e for the night. The only night I've ever paid for in 4 months, but I had a lovely river view. I explored the city and the next day decided to move my van to the free riverside area which I had discovered on my walk. I parked at the river for two more nights and enjoyed amazing weather, incredible Rhein views and got to catch up with a dear friend who I met in Zanzibar five years ago. She invited me over to do my laundry and make home made pizza and was so kind, something only travellers will understand. Haha! The day we left, she came to say goodbye and we headed off towards a lakeside town called Haselünne which looked beautiful on Park4night, the app which i use to find overnight spots.
It was a long weekend in Germany so I was caught in crazy traffic and angry speeding Germans on the road. I even had an encounter at the gas station, when they accused me of not paying, which made me even more angry, as I did pay! I headed off and finally made it to a beautiful but packed spot by the lake, which was full of German posh motorhomes, complete with staring eyes, as I approached, to park Maggie. Luckily I got an amazing spot facing the lake, just before many more arrived and were forced to the back of the area or out of the area completely. I decided I would stay here for a few days and enjoy the great weather, lakeside walks and peace, despite the initial feeling of being judged! Its day two and I finally feel like I'm respected, now that they know I'm not a dirty hippy so I am enjoying life to the max. After this, I plan to head to the north sea for a night or two, Hamburg to catch up with a friend and onwards to Sweden for the summer. The rest I will leave unplanned, but I can imagine there will be plenty of adventure awaiting us!
This is the source I, and many of my van friends have used and are currently using to keep an eye on rules and borders etc. It applies to anyone traveling not just by road!