Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Last Post

The great W. C. Fields said, “If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.

When I set out on the first leg of my ambitious journey, full of optimism and with a tailwind of support from so many, I realized that it would test my stamina... indeed, that was one of the goals.

I also carried the wise advice of my friend Isobel to “listen to my body”. Well, I’d have to be stone deaf not to hear its message.

3,500km from home, the pain in my neck (already reported) moved to my chest and increased day by day. I freely admit I was scared and accelerated my return. The delights of places like Asturias and San Sebastian, were wasted on my physical and mental state.

In Bordeaux, an angry rash enabled diagnosis and treatment of “shingles” (herpes zoster, the return of chicken pox). In one way this is a relief, but it’s agonizingly painful, and a clear sign that my immunity is not strong enough to take this kind of travel.

What seemed like a great idea looking forward, now feels like a big mistake. So, with regrets, and apologies to all you followers, I’m abandoning the big plan.

I’ll just have to find another way to live to the full... as another great man said, “Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.”

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

From one extreme to another

From Genoa to Gibraltar there are very few “unspoilt” parts of the coast of Europe. I was lucky to enjoy the Camargue, the Ebre Delta and Cabo de Gata, but otherwise most of the countryside is covered in plastic, and most of the coast is covered in property.

But once you join the Atlantic, there is what you might call a “sea change”. It’s not exactly wilderness, but everything is more wild, natural and dramatic. Settlements have more character. The balance between man and nature is more wholesome.

And the extremes are really extreme. Within a few days I stood on the southernmost and westernmost points of mainland Europe. From Tarifa (Spain) you can clearly see the mountains of Morrocco, and from Peniche (Portugal) you can see New York, almost.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A pain in the neck

After spending April Fool's day searching Montpellier for an orthopedic doctor, and consulting with Jo at mission control, I decided to press on quickly down the coast of Spain to Fuengirola. 
My cousin Pat and hubby Brynne retired here long ago, and they helped me access a brilliant private healthcare system which at least established no serious problem. Although the Costa del Sol didn't live up to its name, we had lots of sunshine when talking about the old times, visiting nearby Mijas and exploring every imaginable type of bar and restaurant.

I missed out a lot of Spanish coast, but I hear that Portugal is in need of a bail-out, so I'll press on and see if I can contribute a few euros!

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Le Relais Routier

Breakfast with Brigitte Bardot in Saint Tropez, endless cafe au lait overlooking the harbour... lunch (prosciutto crudo and fresh bread thanks to Klara Roccatti) at a vineyard near Toulon... an aperitif in the stunning hill town of Cassis... and bouillabaise for dinner on the harbour at Marseilles. I don’t know where my next meal is coming from!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Čau Ciao!

Roberto, Klara and Cecilia (and Greta!) Roccatti: the best possible welcome to Italy
Goodbye Czech, Hello Italy! Overnight at Voghera, stumbled on a flea market on Sunday morning around the  medieval church and then on to the tiny hill town of Frinco for lunch with the Roccatti family. 
In the early 90s my newborn agency worked with Roberto and his father Pierangelo on drinks brands, most memorably the launch of Joint whisky. We’ve stayed friends over the years and yesterday I spent a few very precious hours at the family‘s „country“ home.
A superb Italian lunch, prepared by Roberto’s beautiful Czech wife Klara, and great fun with their daughters Cecilia and Greta. As was rumoured before I set off, it didn’t take me long to get a couple of Barbie’s into my camper!
Then, under lashing rain and low cloud, to the coast at Genoa and along the Italian Riviera to Imperia, the town on the header of this blog. Arrivederci.
(By the way, click on any images to see them bigger!)

Monday, 21 March 2011

The road home

Five days before the start, it’s time to check out my vehicle! Come with me while I kick the tyres and clean out the fridge!

OK, I admit that a motorhome is not everyone’s dream vehicle. Jeremy Clarkson describes them as “really rather tragic”, and when I see “motorhomers” waving to each other as they pass on the road, I think this is a club I don’t want to join!

But Jo and I chose very carefully and, even though it calls itself “mein Hobby”, we think it’s wonderful.

It’s built on a Fiat Ducato with a 3 litre engine which is almost fun to drive. It drinks an acceptable 11l per 100 km, so you can work out how much the whole trip will cost!

But the real pleasure is that, wherever you run out of fuel, you have every possible home comfort instantly. I have enjoyed bacon & eggs parked outside Berlin Town Hall, drunk chilled Czech beer in Sardinia, and Yorkshire Tea on the Isle of Skye.

The beds are more comfortable than the ones we have at home. The fridge is as big. Mirrors make the bathroom seem infinite (and stop you feeling lonely!). And the view is new every day.

It has a “garage” which is no exaggeration. Along with outdoor furniture and more beer, it is home to my bike... the essential local transport. For xmas my family bought me a fantastic electric power unit to help me pedal up hills.

There are many more features to share (don’t get me started on the cocktail cabinet) but I’ll save them for another time. Until then, enjoy this Top Gear motorhome movie and see how much fun I’m going to have: 

Saturday, 12 March 2011


Almost a year into my lung cancer diagnosis, with thirty weeks of successful chemotherapy behind me, the cliches say I have to find my way to "fight" or "battle" cancer. But when you are doing it it doesn't really feel like that. There is nothing to fight against, you are really just fighting for your life... and this is how I'm going to do it:

I plan to travel the entire coast of Europe (roughly the same distance as around the world!) to “embrace” the most complex continent on the planet, united as never before. People moan about the EU, but I am an enthusiastic Europhile.

The coast also offers inspiring natural sights and contact with cultures that are now out of the mainstream (compared with our homogenized cities and highways).

The entire journey needs around seven months, starting at the beginning of spring in the Mediterranean, crossing the Arctic Circle at the height of summer, and returning to the warm south for the autumn.

My family and friends will join me for some parts of the journey (my motorhome has comfortable space for a traveling companion) but otherwise I’m on my own.

Click on the map and you'll see the plan in more detail, just the basic idea. From experience I know it's good to slow down when things are delightful and speed up when they are not. And an important part of any road trip is serendipity, being open to chances for unexpected things to happen.

This blog is intended to keep anyone who's interested, posted. Please let me know what you think. If you'd like to join me, let me know. But I’ll be equally happy to take your thoughts with me!