Looking at old photos from our 90s camping expeditions, it’s easy to assume that the sun always shone, that nothing ever went wrong, that there were no problems to overcome. The trips were lengthy [as they often are nowadays, too], we needed to work out where campsites were, public transport options, timetables, routes. There was no internet to consult, no smartphone to rely on, no holiday ‘rep’ to ask, no coach tour. We relied on publications like ‘Rough Guide’, which were ground-breaking in their day, as well as atlases and local tourist information.
A photo of that first, thrilling trip to Italy in my ancient Volvo with a roof-rack [which I’d been lucky to pick up at a local auction] shows a typical scene-pitched up old frame tent on a sunny, pine dotted site, a glimpse of the bikes [useful for local shopping and for leisure rides], a towel draped over a wing mirror. I’ve no clue where we were at that point, but I’d guess at the south of France, since the scene could be any one of hundreds of sites in that area and we’ve visited or passed through more there than anywhere else.
Back then our trips were confined to the long summer holidays, when we’d have the time to go long distance and forget about the stresses of our busy teaching jobs.
I do remember wandering around Monaco [my second visit] and pursuing a mission to get Husband’s passport stamped. This was something I’d got on my first visit and was heartily proud of, a piece of bureaucracy long since abandoned. We travelled via both the French and Italian Riviera, taking a look at St Tropez, Juan les Pins, Nice and Cannes en route.
That time, we drove as far as Viareggio, on the Italian west coast, stopping at a site belonging to an eccentric collector of vintage cars. We spent some time on the beach, as well as making trips to both Florence and Pisa. In those days I’d need to sleep a great deal to get over the long summer term of teaching I’d had and had perfected the art of beach snoozing, despite it leading to unsightly dribbling and snoring.
In one of those bizarre coincidences we happened upon one of my daughter’s school friends as we walked past a row of tourist stalls on the way to the Ponte Vecchio. She enthused to us over the array of tourist tat on display whilst standing with her back to Florence’s famously beautiful bridge with its umber and pink hues, straddling the Arno river. Walking across makes you think of how London Bridge must have been when it was similarly lined with shops and dwellings, their overhanging eves almost meeting in the middle.
We managed to be photographed in front of the leaning tower at Pisa without feeling obliged to pretend to hold it up. I suppose a passer-by must have taken the shot, since this was long before the ‘selfie’ era [regular readers will Know I’m not a devotee of the selfie cult].
So with very little in the way of swanky equipment we’d embarked on what was to be a long [and continuing] series of European tours, with many adventures thrown in!