Camping makes you sexy

I have just finished my third and last trip for the year and it has ended on such a high. My second season with Topdeck has given me a lot of new experiences and it felt nice to end the season with a trip I have done before and on what I would call ‘the main drag’ of Europe. The trip is called Europe Unplugged and runs for 22 days and visits 9 countries. I did it last year during May/June.

This was the first trip that I haven’t been nervous for! If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t actually excited for it as it meant I was coming off my relaxing holiday. I didn’t really feel like going to ‘work’ but luckily it didn’t take me long to snap out of that frame of mind.
Caity was at the crew house and together we got most of my big shop out of the way in Sligro in the Netherlands. This supermarket is a fun place to visit because of all of its free samples! Caity and I snacked on biscuits, cake, beef stirfry and cheese as we made our way around and despite being a slightly more expensive place to shop, I was happy with the results. One of the things that I was excited for on this trip was how tiny it is! We only have 24 passengers with us from London to Rome and then for the second half we will drop down to 16, the smallest trip that I have ever taken and I am keen to see everyone mesh and become close friends.
My driver is Zsolt, a Romanian driver on his first camping trip and my Trip Leader is Erin, an Australian girl on her second camper. Zsolt and I packed the coach with the camping and my cooking gear and I have never had a pre-departure day go so smoothly and easily. We were done by 4pm.
Departure morning was the usual. We were up at 7 packing our bags and making sandwiches for the day. 5 coaches in total went out this morning so we all piled in to the van and drove over to the depo to do the last coach checks and pull out at 9am.
The drive to Calais takes 3 hours and a driver can break this up with a 15 minute stop if he wishes. We didn’t and with the flat drive, the sun beating on the windscreen and my music playing loudly down the coach I almost fell asleep. Definitely no nerves here. The only strange thing I noticed on the way in to the docks was the huge amount of people walking along the highway or hiding in bushes near the truck stops, waiting to jump into the engine works of the trucks and hideaway until they are in England. I have never seen it like this before, I must have seen 100 people in the 10km before the docks just looking out for a way to illegally enter.
At border control I always have to go in and talk to the boarder guards. I say to them ‘I’m just picking up passengers’ meaning that I’m not actually going over to England so they don’t really have to worry about me. I have a UK visa but it doesn’t matter really as I’m not leaving France. Some of them don’t even stamp me saying that they don’t want to fill up my passport. This morning though he stamped me twice because he smudged the first one!
We weren’t at the docks very long before the ferry pulled up. Suddenly there were around 200 passengers milling around the 5 coaches and we located Erin and our 21. Erin and I have met a few times briefly and so it was nice to greet someone I felt like I knew! It wasn’t long before the bags were all loaded and we were off. Zsolt did a drivers introduction telling them about emergency exits and such and I introduced myself and told them about what to expect from the cook tent. Some passengers come straight up and introduce themselves and shake your hand, others hang back and eye you up as if to assess how you are going to impact their trip. Its all about first impressions on that first day!
Nutella crepes during the driving tour. Doing it right

The drive in to Paris is about 4 hours and we stop once at a service station on the way. The sun may be struggling through the clouds but as long as it keeps on trying I am happy. I haven’t once yet had a camping trip where it didn’t rain in Paris. At the moment it is looking positive and I hope tomorrow will stay the same.

Tomorrow should be a good day, it will still be busy but Marissa at the Paris site tent has said I am welcome to come in and use their tent facilities for my picnic and also any food from them that I need (which I think will be good as my budget is looking only a little tight…) My hope for tomorrow is to only have to spend 2 hours in the Metro supermarket and the rest of it making an amazing picnic in the sunshine! I would love to be able to eat the picnic on the grass under the Eiffel tower in the sun and finish the evening with a bottle of wine at the cabaret. Lets see how this dream goes. For now I can look forward to the Paris driving tour. My Favourite 🙂
Stopped to take pictures

*Side note – a site tent is a kitchen where we cook for the hostel groups that come through. Paris site takes care of everyone’s Paris picnics as well as their lunches on their departure days.

Times were good in Paris. I got up at the next morning to make a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs with bacon. I started on my picnic at the same time and had a few platters done by the time Marissa and Holly got up to start on their 5 picnics for the day. I like to measure trips in firsts and this was the first trip where I felt in control and relaxed enough to sit down and have a coffee with the girls before we all got into our prep. We had lots to talk about, winter work, who had been through, what you do with yourself when you are at Paris site and mostly alone. I nibbled on chocolate éclairs whilst making sweet platters. Pretty much everything was done by 1pm and I headed off with my crew to the Metro supermarket. It took a little bit to get there but we made it eventually (by 2pm) and we split up to get the odds and ends that hadn’t been available in Sligro. Erin had never properly explored a Metro (the supermarkets we use all over Europe) before and she loved it when I showed her the whole electronics and clothes and stationary sections! We were out by 3pm and by going the right way it only took half an hour to get back to camp.
Hello cheese plate!
I packed the shopping away and tidied up loose ends for an hour until the other two coaches turned up and we all started packing them with food. The picnics are that large and delicate that a coach can pretty much carry 2 as a maximum (the platters are just laid out underneath in the luggage lockers) so we had 3 coaches to take the 6 picnics in.
Passengers tucking in

The drive was so quick. We try to leave 2 hours before the picnic because there is often crazy traffic at 5pm in Paris, it figures, but we made it in an hour and so we could chill with the other crew at the Champ de Mars. I had my eye on a nice picnic spot on the grass, in amongst the flowers and we snagged it, only making a few lovers feel uncomfortable I’m sure, when 24 people turned up and wreaked their romantic dinner.

All of our guys were exhausted, they always are in Paris. It is a big city, people have been walking all day and trying to cram absolutely everything in to one day. They were glad for the food and all exclaimed that it was way more than what they were expecting. What I gave them was – a variety of quiches, chicken nibbles, smoked salmon and prawns, pasta salad, potato salad, 2 green salads, frogs legs, an antipasto platter, bread, 6 different cheeses, a fruit platter (that I constructed a watermelon swan for this time) plates of tarts, éclairs and macaroons. It is an absolute feast but they made a decent effort of eating it all.
My friend from Uni, Dave, is on a trip that started on the same day as us and so I went over to his group to chat whilst our guys got dressed up for the cabaret. I had worn a red dress with red lipstick and a beret and was told that I looked just like a little French girl, Oui oui!
Dave and I
Dave was good, in Europe for the first time and by himself on the trip but already making friends. We took some mandatory selfies with the Eiffel tower and I told him we would have a proper night out together in Lauterbrunnen.
Our little group are all bonding already. We have equal girls and guys with 3 couples and some sisters and a few pairs of friends but lots of solo travelers. We have 6 different nationalities and I am yet to find out the ages but basically it is an even spread from 19 to late 30’s.
The Cabaret was great as usual. The 13 crew in that night sat together and Erin and I had a bottle of wine between us and nice close seats. The Cabaret is a must see in Paris and the one we visit ‘Paradis Latin’ is just fantastic. Every time I go I still gasp and clap and laugh. They are a bit of a variety show, lots of singing and dancing but also a trapeze artist, a unicycle guy who does tricks that are often peoples favorite bit of the show, and an MC who speaks about a million different languages and is great with the audience. The girls are for the most bit topless and the first time I saw the show I had a complex about the perfect bodies I was seeing in front of me and the guys around me Oggleing at them but now I just admire them for their beauty. And of course I look at the guys, these boys are amazing male specimens, jumping around the stage, in also very very little and it is not hard to watch at all. I love all the costumes and the glitter and energy. It’s one of my favorite things we can do on a trip.
The show ran a bit over time so we were late back to camp and after some chats with Marissa and Holly, were in bed by 1.
I was up again at 7 thinking that all I needed to do this morning was to cut up a few vegetables for lunch. When I went to get bits and bobs out of my fridges I found them almost completely bare. I had been robbed during the night and they took the things in the fridges, my meat and cheese, as well as veges, cakes and cooking wine. That was todays lunch, dinner and lunch and dinner for the next few days as well. They took sandwich meats for 2 days, chicken for 2 dinners, mince that was going to be a dinner and a lunch and then all the cheeses that accompanied those meals!  I was surprised but I just assessed what was gone and went over to Marissa in the site tent to see what she could help me out with. We agreed that a curry would be best for tonight and she gave me the chicken and rice for it. She gave me cakes and cheese and lunch meats for my lunch today and some of my missing veges. I put together the lunch and called Lauterbrunnen before they went shopping to ask for their assistance as well. Mark said he would be happy to help and I sent him a shopping list for my items for the next few days and everything should still be fine. I was impressed with myself for my calm head and really, with the sites around it is an easy fix.
Now we are driving off to Lauterbrunnen. I wonder how cold it will be and as usual I hope there will be sun.
What a day! It will definitely go down as a different kind of day in my Topdeck days. After fixing the food problem we were running just fine, pax slept for the first leg of the drive. We did introductions for the second. I got to learn everyone’s names! And now that I have heard them all I can remember them just fine, its nice to be able to go up to someone and chat without struggling to remember what their name is…
Then we stopped for lunch. Lunch itself was fine but Zsolt came up to tell us that the coach had something wrong with the alternator and he couldn’t turn it off for fear of it not turning on again. Also somehow this had broken our air conditioning, and it was hot! We couldn’t continue because we didn’t know if the coach would randomly conk out on the highway. Erin and I took the passengers up to the service station and Erin bought everyone an ice block whilst Zsolt called the office about what to do. After about an hour a mechanics was found that was open and could help us, however it was 150km away and it would take us off route. Oh well, nothing for it we piled in to a hot coach and opened the emergency hatches to let some air in. It wasn’t so bad with the airflow going and we watched a movie for the 2 hours it took to get there.
Once we dropped Zsolt and the coach at the volvo mechanics we walked with the passengers to the shell service station we saw, but it was closed. We walked to the restaurant next to it. Also closed. Then Erin spotted a Carrefour supermarket a bit further up the road so we walk up there dodging across the highway. It was worth it when we got there, Carrefour is always huge but this one had a bit of a shopping mall around it and the guys were happy to go exploring and shopping. They came back with sleeping bags, blankets, champagne and Erin and I even found a sephora and bought some makeup. It wasn’t really so bad. We were picked up in our fixed coach at 7pm. Our estimated time of arrival was 10 so I called to the Lauters site tent to ask if I could use their facilities to cook dinner as that would be faster and they offered to cook my whole meal for me! Seeing as they had just gone shopping for me they had some ingredients and they added their own to make us an awesome Mexican feast.
Getting in to Lauters in the dark was only disappointing for us who knew the views we were missing out on, the group was still in high spirits and did and amazing job of putting up the cook tent in the dark, everyone pitched in to help. The guys on site had even made us all dessert cups and everyone was very appreciative. I went in to the bar for a drink and played a little flip cup, did a little dancing but I wasn’t there long before I was exhausted and in bed. Zsolt on the other hand was full of energy and on fire on the dance floor! He had said to us in Paris that once we got to Lauters he would have a surprise for us and this was it. What a daemon on the d-floor 😛
In our valley

One thing that was kind of cool about coming in at night was that when everyone woke in the morning and looked outside their tents they were taken aback buy the scene that faced them. Lauterbrunnen is in the bottom of a deep and narrow valley. On either side waterfalls fling themselves off cliffs and create rainbows over the town when the sun catches them. Rocky faces rise sharply above our campsite and snow is easily visible on the giant mountains which draw tourists to this area. Porridge in an area like this always feels very appropriate and our guys were all excited for their day ahead. Some go up the old railway to the top of the tallest mountain, Jungfrau. Some go skydiving out of a helicopter, I can only imagine what the views are like from that perspective! Others take the day to hike around one of the many tracks that go up mountains, under waterfalls and though fields. It was possibly the most glorious day I have ever seen in Lauterbrunnen and I was in shorts myself despite being a chilly morning, once the the sun gets down to us it is beautiful. I finished up breakfast and lunch and went up to have my Lauters ritual. Coffee and a brownie at the Airtime café whilst skyping Dad for fathers day. Most of the crew congregate there and I was joined by Erin, Zsolt, Ross and Kirsty. Every time I go to Lauterbrunnen I get better at making my days work for me. Most times I am exhausted and all I want to do after the café is sleep or read but I always feel bad because I have not yet done any of the walking tracks myself! This time I found the energy and made the effort to walk to the closest waterfall, the big one opposite our camp, and I was not disappointed. A cute path snakes up a little but steep hill to a tunnell that leads you up and behind the waterfall itself. At the end you are just in a little wormhole that is carved out of the rock face, one side open and looking over the valley with a curtain of water making everything just a little hazy.

I did go down for a nap after that, just an hour before dinner which was curry. A change in plans after the robbery but it went down a real treat. We had popadums with it and a chocolate fondue afterwards. Everyone stayed sitting around the fondue drinking and playing games for hours. Erin and I went and helped the site tent clean after all the help they had given us but after I went to join the circle. Some of the Carrefour champagne was put in to my hand I was told to drink quickly because we were going to the bar. It turns out our group are a wild bunch of dancers. One of the girls was actually a dance instructor in earlier days and can really break it down! Another instructs jazzercise and was trying to teach me some moves but I have to say I was a bit hopeless. It was a good night though and I had to tear myself away to go to bed knowing how much I would regret it in the morning if I didnt. #noregrets

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