Thursday 4 August 2016

Four Countries, Four Nights: Our Return to the UK

Luxembourg, Belgium, France and the UK, 5th – 8th July 2016

We’re in a very different location from where we last left off in Germany, having crossed four country borders.  I’m writing this sat on a sofa in an actual living room of an actual house, rather than in the confines of our now empty van.  The bottles of sun cream have been retired and self-service launderettes have been traded for domestic washing machines.  Yes, we’ve finally returned home.  Our travels have now come to an end, and we’re gearing up for the next big challenge: employment!  But before we got here, we managed to squeeze another two new countries into our travels, starting with Luxembourg.

Motorhome parking in Junglinster
Luxembourg is a tiny country with just 2586 square kilometres of land, making it just 1.06% of the size of the United Kingdom.  It is very strong economically with one of the highest GDP per capita values in the world, although much of its economy is based within the banking sector.  It has low tax rates for corporations and low rates for transferring money in and out of the country, making it a popular tax haven for international companies.

After an evening staying in the town of Junglinster which was convenient for its aire (GPS: 49.70498 6.25183, Free, Paying serv. pt.) but very lacking in things to see, we made the 20 minute journey into a parking area close to the centre of the country’s capital, Luxembourg City.  It feels strange thinking of the place as a capital as with a population of just 107,000 it is three times smaller than my home city (Nottingham).  I may be biased against Nottingham having grown up with it, and Matt’s never had glowing things to say about it either (although as a northern boy he’s used to pretty places like York), but bias aside I’d say Luxembourg City has more to offer.

Geographically it’s very interesting, as a gorge cuts through the centre, separating the main old town centre into its own distinct area away from the rest of the city, connected up by a series of bridges.  The River Pétrusse that created the main gorge is little more than a trickling stream now but you can walk along the park in the valley it cut out (a route that was very popular with runners) until you get to the lower city (Ville Basse), an interesting area full of buildings looking out over a larger river (the Alzette) and surrounded by the old city wall fortifications above.  As it’s not a big city you can see most of the important sites in an afternoon, but there are some nice areas that make it worth a visit if you’re passing through.

Aire at St. Hubert

With our ferry looming just days away we travelled north through the country, stopping to get a full tank of fuel at just €0.95/L before crossing over into Belgium.  After our relaxed cruising on smooth tarmacked German motorways, Belgian road conditions came as a bit of a shock with a noticeable decrease in surface quality when we crossed the border.  There was a lot more rough concrete with filled in patches that were noisy to drive on.  In the end we made it to a place to stay the night, at an aire in St. Hubert (GPS: 50.02718 5.38085, Free inc. serv. pt.).  We hadn’t intended to visit anywhere in Belgium as it didn’t fit within our time constraints before the ferry, but seeing as we happened to be spending the night we went for a wander around the town.  It had a presentable main square with a fairly impressive church, but looking at some of the side roads was very surreal as we were greeted with rows of terraced brick houses that seemed a bit too much like the mining towns I grew up around for comfort.  As least one thing reminded us we were still away from home: instead of local chippies the town had French style Friteries (as we were in the French speaking part of Belgium).

Bray Dunes seafront
Aire at Bergues
We had one day left to get to Dunkirk before our morning ferry, so the next day was mainly a tiring day of travel.  Whilst we were in Belgium we stocked up on a selection of chocolate but showed restraint when it came to beer, partly as the selection in the Lidl we visited wasn’t huge and also as we still had a healthy supply of Czech beer filling our cupboards.  As we crossed the French border in the late afternoon we made a trip to Bray Dunes to get one last beach visit in before the end of our trip.  It marked our first beach visit since we left Spain 10 weeks ago, which is probably the longest we’ve been away from the coast on this trip and a far cry from our beach-bumming days in Greece this time last year.  Bray Dunes has strict regulations about motorhome parking in the summer, but in true European fashion we pretended we hadn’t seen the signs as we risked it for a quick stroll of the sands.  The beach was teeming with families on their jollies, but I wasn’t feeling the holiday spirit; we’d had a long drive, and it all felt a bit too much like French Skegness for our liking.  But on the plus side Matt had got his last bit of sand in, so we moved on to get a few important final French purchases (wine, French cider and pain au chocolats) and parked for the night in a free aire about half an hour inland of Dunkirk at Bergues (GPS: 50.96541 2.43566). There were no services but the large gravel area near the sports ground was a handy stopover for the port. 

Our last two English Channel ferry trips were both in December to get to Matt’s graduation and back, when we got to experience the joys of winter storms at sea first-hand.  The journeys were full of ferry delays, constantly moving horizons and waves crashing against the bow of the ship, leaving us with green faces and white knuckles.  After our pain au chocolat for breakfast while waiting to board at the port our return to the UK this time around was much less eventful, and a couple of hours after getting loaded onto the ship we were docking in Dover, having barely felt we’d been out at sea at all.  One more day of traversing the M25 and the M1 and we were back with family in Nottinghamshire.

After fifteen months of travelling, our trip has finally come to an end.  How have we been filling the time since?  Well, we’ve been very busy which is why we've just got around to uploading this. As well as visiting both sets of parents we emptied the van packing the contents into storage boxes, and gave it a meticulous cleaning both inside and out to get it ready for sale.  We’ve taken a deposit on it already so if all goes to plan, we’ll have sold it by the end of the week.  I’ve traded shorts and t-shirts for work attire as I got a new job and started work again this week, and Matt’s been getting his MINI back on the road so we've got some transport. He's just putting the finishing touches on his CV too so he’ll be confronting the job market next week.  We want to explore more of Europe in the future with Scandinavia and the Baltics at the top of the list (and a return to Greece!), but for now we need to focus on our careers as well as get some investments and financial grounding in place.

A few people have asked us if we are sad to be back.  If I said that we weren’t disappointed to stop exploring then I’d be lying, but at the same time we’re excited to be facing new challenges and building a future for ourselves.  We may have missed out on a couple of years of working history compared to some of our peers, but we have no regrets.  We’ve met so many great like-minded people we would have never crossed paths with and visited countries we may never have otherwise stepped foot in.  Life is short and for what we’ve lost in a couple of years of income, we’ve gained so much more in priceless memories that no-one can take away from us.

- Jo


  1. I just wanted to say that I've really enjoyed following your blog, so I'm sorry your trip is over. All the best for that employment malarkey.

    1. Thank you very much Gayle, we appreciate it. We'll be keeping the blog ticking over

  2. Chris and Peter (Belgian Beauty, our moho, not us ;-))5 August 2016 at 16:34

    So sad... No more travel posts... I'll have to start a kick off programme. But I will keep my fingers crossed for your careers! And I know you are sensible people but still: do not let the job and the stress take over. You know what: do read all those other blogs! They will certainly keep you vigilant (is that the right word?)
    All the best!

    1. Thank you Chris and Peter. We certainly will try to not let the jobs take over and keep the aim in sight of what we'll be working for; future long term touring. I think you're right reading the other blogs will keep it in our thoughts, I'll be following them in awe.

  3. You may have lost out on two years of income, but you'll have experience way beyond your peers.

    I know just how you feel, having been there too but I also know what fantastic plans you have for the future. This is just the end of a chapter in a very exciting book. I look forward to reading more.

    We loved meeting up with you both in Spain. All the best for the future and please do keep in touch and tell us how you are getting on.

    Ju x

    1. Thanks Ju. It's going to be an interesting and very different chapter ahead.

      We loved meeting with you and Jay too, and really appreciate the helpful guidance you've given us from your experience. We certainly will keep in touch to let you know things are going, and will keep following your blog for motivation and ideas for future places to go

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    1. Glad it's of interest, we'll eventually be adding to it with new content when we get chance to get away again.

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