On the road again
September 2, 2007
Maths Chick and I have just returned from an epic 4 week, 3300 mile drive to Croatia to attend my old uni friend Reuben’s barbeque.
This lucky bloke spends four months a year with his family in a renovated cottage in the fishing village of Jezera on the Dalmation coast.
Reuben has two courtyards in his cottage, where he whiles away the most part of the summer cooking up smokey fish feasts on his man-sized grill. Unusually for an Englishman, he really knows how to handle his barbie; but then, he did leave the land of charcoal-singed burgers over 15 years ago.
Apart from the motivation of a good chow-down with friends, we also went on this roadtrip in order to learn more about this strange continent called Europe, which we’d been told lay just across the English channel from Dover. And here, in short, is what we learned:
1. European Service Stations
During almost four weeks of driving through France, Italy, Slovenia and Crotia we’ve become authorities on the relative quality of European service stations. These can be rated as follows:
Quality and price of a cup of coffee:
- Italy 9/10
- France 7/10
- Croatia 4/10
- Slovenia N/A (no service stations en route)
Pleasantness of toilet experience:
- Croatia 9/10 (law requires all public toilets cleaned every two hours)
- France 8/10 (on toll roads)
- Italy 7.5/10 (lose half a point for having to leave a tip to toilet attendants)
- France 4/10 (on non-toll roads)
- Slovenia 3/10 (Glastonbury-style portaloos in layby)
2. European Mechanics
During the trip our long-suffering Fiesta (aka Felicity) suffered two punctures and a busted starter motor and we had to take her to visit the car doctor in three different countries. Here Maths Chick vainly looks for “Please can you check the tracking?” in our ‘Fast-talk Croatian’ phrasebook.
We can therefore also rate European mechanics in the following order:
- Slovenia : 9/10 (15 minutes, new tyre, service with a smile, perfect English, nice overalls)
- Italy: 6/10 (5 days, new starter motor, 3 hour lunchbreak, service with a Latin shrug)
- Croatia: 3/10 (30 minutes, attempt at mending puncture leading to second puncture 10 miles down the road, service with a Slavic scowl)
3. European Camping Styles
We camped 21 nights in 14 different campsites and learned about differing national styles of camping, which can be classified as follows:
- British – ‘Ghetto camping’ – low-fi, small tents, single gas stoves, head torches
- Italian – ‘Domestic camping’ – lampshades, oak tables and chairs, guttering systems rigged up around vast 5-room tents, have the family over for Sunday lunch
- France – ‘Paradise camping’ – Eden-like campsite reception, tropical plants and birds in cages, idyllic position by a river or lake, Edith Piaf playing through hi-fi system in toilets
- Croatia – ‘Tourist board cultural camping’ – on-site local cheese festivals, peasant folklore recitals in campsite restaurant…
4. European Roads
If there’s one thing this trip made clear is that Europe has too many people trying to drive too many cars to too many towns, too fast on too few roads. By comparison the driving experience in the US is polite, sedate and civilised. How many areas of life can you say that about? Anyway, here’s our ratings:
- France 8/10 – generally pleasant driving experience, deduct 1 point for expense (100 euros + in tolls) and 1 for driving on the wrong side.
- Croatia 7/10 – brand new motorway and tunnel system currently being built, deduct 2 points for failure to finish this system in time for our arrival and 1 point for driving on the wrong side
- Italy 2/10 – deduct 7 points for horrific, bullying, macho driving on absurdly narrow and fast 2 lane motorways and 1 extra point for driving on the wrong side.
Many European countries make great cheese, but Croatia isn’t one of them.