Europe by Peugeot (Almost)

In October 1996 we decided to take a driving and camping trip around Europe to explore the opportunities to expand burgeoning business activities. We did a lot of research using the Internet, libraries and contacts built up over many years and (foolishly) felt fully prepared when we set off on 19 June 1998.

We flew to London via Hong Kong and, despite the long flight, were wide-awake when we landed at about 6am local time. Cathay Pacific and Hertz kindly provided us with a Fiat Punto and we began two weeks of touring around Britain.

We went to Bath and Oxford, Chester and the Lake District. We headed down the motorway at a sedate pace and spent a glorious few days in London. We had intended to stay longer in Britain but two weeks of pouring rain took its toll and we called Sodexa in Paris and arranged to collect our Peugeot 406 Turbo Diesel early, and flew to Paris. We enjoyed our two weeks in England despite the uninspiring transport, appalling food and the wettest June since 1860.

We landed in Paris on a Friday, expecting to collect our Peugeot at Charles de Gaulle airport. It wasn't there and we were told that it would be ready on Monday morning. It wasn't practical to camp without the secure storage provided by the car so we retired, somewhat disgruntled, to a luxurious no-star hotel in the north of Paris. Fortunately, Paris is a very seductive place so we soon forgot our woes and basked in the experience of just being there. We collected the car late on Monday, after a very frustrating day waiting around. We had originally intended to drive out of Paris, but we had fallen in love with the place and wanted to see more. So we headed into the frenetic Paris traffic, to the camping ground at the Blois de Boulogne and stayed another 10 days.

After we had our fill of Paris we stopped off at Versailles and then headed up to the Normandy coast to see the wonderful Mont St Michel and on to the Loire Valley and the dreamlike Chateau Chambord. We drove through the Dordogne with its wonderful rock walls and extraordinary houses that appeared to be carved out of the rock, and through the Languedoc to Carcassonne. We passed through Provence to the coast, and headed up to the glorious French Alps.

We saw all of Switzerland - from the highest mountain passes to its beautiful lakes - and drove through the incredible Dolomites to Venice - a truly wonderful place. We headed up through the eastern part of Austria through Bavaria to Munich and on up the Romantic Road to Frankfurt. We went to the Black Forest (for a rest) and then up the Rhine to the Dutch border. We drove through Holland and Belguim to Calais and then crossed the English Channel and drove up to Cambridge. We went to Edinburgh and Glasgow and then spent a glorious fortnight in London. We spent our last weekend in Paris when we dropped off the Peugeot (16,500 km on the clock) and then flew to London and back home with a stopover in Hong Kong.

But what did we experience?

Life has been a bit flat since we returned. Suddenly our rather narrow view of the world has been blown wide open by our new experiences, and all we can think about is how we can get back there as soon as possible.

Bill McNamee and Geraldine Butler