Sue had a burning desire to own a pink Split Screen Camper and travel around Europe. Fortunately, Michael felt the same way and they held on to that dream even when they moved to Perth, Australia.
Sue can trace her passion for old VWs back to her childhood, when her parents owned an early Bay they used for holidays in Cornwall. The dream of travelling around Europe became a reality when they found Beanieblossom for sale on the Internet, back in October 2016. No, not in Australia, but Stoke-on-Trent! It ticked all of Michael’s boxes – semaphores, 1955cc engine, vented discs brakes etc, and so when they traveled to the UK for Christmas, they got to view the Bus in the metal.
They say: “Beanieblossom had spent the majority of her life in southern California and was destined to live in the Perth sunshine with us.
It was love at first sight and through rose coloured spectacles we handed over the money and drove away grinning.
We spent the next three days travelling all over the UK shopping for an interior. We chose Vanwurks over the rest, not because of price but because we were absolutely blown away with the passion, quality and attention to detail Nick and Liz promised to deliver. They exceeded our expectations and our interior is one of the most talked about in Perth.
My fabulous sister Lynn, is a whizz on the sewing machine and had the exhausting job of making the curtains but it was a race against the clock as we didn’t receive the material until the day before we were leaving. She worked through the night using measurements off the Internet to get them done. Amazingly, not only did she finish them on time, she made a couple of cushions with the left over material as well.
We left Folkstone on the morning of the 20th June with cases packed and bursting with anticipation for the eight weeks ahead.
Once in Calais we were undecided whether to go left or right, but as we knew there was a VW meet in Hessisch Oldendorf on the 25th we decided to turn left.
After our first full day of driving we broke down in Belgium! Euro Assistance came to our rescue and we proceeded to have a fabulous tour of the city via the recovery vehicle and camped that night on an industrial estate. One of the oil cooler pipes had been touching the exhaust manifold and burnt a hole. We were directed to a VW garage in Roubaix where every guy in the workshop had a go at fixing her. Using international gestures and with no charge we were back on the road.
After an overnight stop in Belgium for some chocolate, Google Maps had its first senior moment of the trip and took us into the forest of Houssiere for fuel. Since Kombis don’t use firewood as fuel, Michael did his 10,000 steps for the day, fuel can in hand.
Luxembourg was our third country in three days and was beautiful. From there we headed to HO where we camped free of charge for a couple of days and found ourselves in VW heaven. Campsite entertainment was a young French guy playing Mull of Kintyre (badly) on the bagpipes.
Salzburg was next on the agenda and driving the Bus on the Autobahn felt like we were in Star Wars, as all the cars were flying past at light speed.
We decided we to come off at the next village for a cold beer and some time out. Oberleichtersbach was having its village fete so we snuck in and were made to feel very welcome and treated to more bizarre music.
We arrived in Salzburg on the 27th and cycled into the city and did the touristy thing. Finding a lonely goat high on a hill was a huge bonus and we drove through the Alps with a horrendous storm keeping us company. Beanie’s wipers only work intermittently, so at best had 50% vision and, finding a small leak from the window, very wet feet.
Damp but in one piece, we arrived at the Lido De Jesolo where we were welcomed by an awesome guy called Mattio who worked Soleado beach so he was able to cop us a top spot along the beach with a much needed cocktail. It was here Beanie had her flower power makeover. Leaving that little bit of paradise our next destination was Lake Garda and from the moment we set off we have had special VW waves, thumbs up, smiles and paparazzi moments.
Our pink Split was like a golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory as everywhere we camped we were given prime positions and the owners asked if they could take pictures for next years brochures.
As a chocoholic our next destination had to be Switzerland! So from sunrise in Garda to snow peaked mountains and heavy rain clouds through the longest tunnel at 18K long through the Alps, we headed for Geneva. The chocolate was divine.
Before setting off we joined a camping guide called France Passion, which is a free camping guide to France. It is customary to sample the cheese, wine, or cognac for a night’s sleep and our first free camp was in the vineyards of Yeane. Parking next to an RV beanie looked like a toy.
On route to Marseille we spotted what turned out to be the most picturesque little village in Province called Mermande.
We found at this point of the journey we were missing the coast and the ocean breeze so headed to Montpelier beach where we had a swim in the ocean and much to the horror of the alfresco dinners, showered on the beach front (only semi-naked).
Once we were moved on by the local law enforcement we found a hideaway on the beach to settle for the night, and whilst cooking our dinner we met an eccentric author called Hugh McNight. We later discovered that not only was he an authority on the European waterways, but he has numerous books published and lives in an 18th century manor house in France. On his advice we paid a visit to the Canal du Midi, and when we arrived found yet another festival celebrating the rebirth of the site of the nine locks, with a monumental sculpture of King Louis X1V.
Next destination was Carcassonne airport where we picked up the sister who was joining the adventure for a week.
The three of us stayed in Carcassone for a couple of days, attending an outdoor concert in the grounds of the castle before heading to France’s Grande Canyon in the south east. We stopped at an amazing campsite called Huttopia Verdon Gorge in Castellane. This was one of our favourite places with its startling turquoise green dam, which opened on Tuesdays and Fridays for the adrenalin junkies who loved to ride the rapids. The tranquil atmosphere of the camp was sublime.
Next we headed to Grimaud and on our decent through the Alps the brakes were overheating so we took five to adjust the wheel bearings, which also gave the brakes a chance to cool down. At which point the sister began to overheat…
We were fortunate enough to be on the south coast to celebrate one of the most important dates in the French calendar – Bastille Day. Parades, parties and plenty of food and fireworks.
After saying a sad farewell to the sister we drove through Hyeres where Michael took my favourite picture of the whole trip, me and Beanie down a tree-lined driveway.
We then came across Lac de saint Cassian (nature in its purest form) and managed to park right on the edge of the water, set-up our dinner table on a little island where we watched the sunset, then bathe in the fresh water. Sadly, we were moved on pretty late in the evening so had to park overnight in the Air du Piccolaret Le Cannet, just outside Cannes where at around 3am we were broken into while sleeping. They wrenched the side cargo door open and pinched my handbag containing our passports, money and more importantly my blue mascara!
As this was now the morning of my birthday we didn’t relish the thought of spending the day in the local police station to report the robbery, so decided to make an appointment at the embassy in Paris for emergency passports to be picked up en route to Calais and hit the beach in Monaco. Beanie loved the tight fast-paced passageways – they were like an adrenalin experience all on their own.
As it is illegal to camp in Monaco we drove up to St Jeannet and stayed in a delightful family-run campsite with a panoramic view of the coast.
We’d spent quite a bit of time between the southern Alps and the Mediterranean, so decided to head inland and visit some chateaus – the first of these being in Bollene. It was owned by the very eccentric, generous and passionate Earl, Patrick Daniel who kindly gave us the use of shower facilities, electricity and a bottle of wine on the house.
Our next stop was a little less luxurious in the Loire, where for the first time in our lives we had the use of an ecologically friendly toilet where fresh lavender and a scoop of sawdust were the norm! We only stayed the one night.
We then drove to a campsite in Lissac-Sur-Couze for a much needed shower and use of a washing machine. We were given a fantastic view of the lake and had a day trip to the 16th century medieval hamlet of Collonges La Rough. This magical place is aptly named “The red village” and has been awarded with the title “Most beautiful village in France”.
Michael had pulled a muscle whilst water skiing so I was finally forced to drive Beanie. I was a little apprehensive; as not only is she left-hand drive but the gears seem to change position on a daily basis. I found it absolutely terrifying as I’m used to comforts like power steering and standard gear levers, indicators that flashed front and back, not tiny semaphores that sometimes flashed and every so often just couldn’t be bothered to leave their comfortable casings.
However, I soon got used to the unique way of driving and fell in love with her even more.
As we were entering the wine producing area, our next stay was in south western France at another striking chateau. Cooking dinner in the grounds of these extraordinary buildings was just surreal, we seemed to at this point fall into a routine of one night in a campsite so we could charge our laptop, have the luxury of running water, then two or three nights camping wild, driving alongside any type of running water so we could swim and wash.
On August 1st we drove through the Cognac region and stayed in Sainrt-Bonnet-sur-Gironde, watching another stunning sunset and purchasing a very old and expensive bottle of brandy for my dad.
Following the Loire estuary to Brittany we spent the day sightseeing in Raint-Nazaire, then headed to Erdeven to watch the sunrise through the Kerzerho alignments (comparable to Stone Henge), stopping for a quick dip in the ocean in Ploemeur, we then drove towards the tip of Brittany (Douarnenez) to check into another Huttopia camp site. This place had stunning views of the fishing bay from the infinity pool.
One chateau we were adamant to visit was the Chateaux de la Motte made famous by Dick and Angel Strawbridge from the series “Escape to the Chateaux“ regrettably they were away when we arrived so we took a sneaky picture with Beanie front and centre and drove to the next destination – Le Mans. As the pinnacle of motor sport we thought Beanie would enjoy a quick blip around the track, as ’57 Splits are known for their endurance and speed… We stayed in the centre and enjoyed La Dame Blanche festival, seeing the Cathedral of Saint Julian of Le Mans lit up was breathtaking.
Back on the road we decided our next France Passion site would be a local goat farm in Northern France, on arrival we were informed in broken English and international gestures that the owners were away on holiday, but seeing the look of concern on our faces Ann offered to let us to stay on her farm for the night. She then introduced her husband, who proceeded to show us around his art studio. We were given an aperitif and invited to stay for dinner. We were blown away by their kind-hearted generosity and interest in our adventures. They opened there home to us unreservedly. Parting with tickets to Claude’s art exhibition on route to Paris we left with a warm glow.
As our appointment at the embassy was drawing near we headed to Paris, where three years prior we had spent a romantic weekend in the Moulin Rouge district. We stayed in an Air B ’n’ B in the centre of Paris while we sorted out our emergency passports and left the capital with heavy hearts and headed to Normandy and our one and only cider farm stay in Osmoy-Saint Valery.
From here a friend advised us to visit Le Touguet as it’s known as Paris by the sea and the playground for rich Parisians. We found it to be charismatic, charming and very beautiful.
By the 20th August we were back in Calais heading back to the motherland. Beanie then set sail from Southampton to Fremantle and 35 days later landed in Perth where she will have a blissful life and more adventures on our stunning west coast.
We had an epic journey. It was trying at times and tested our relationship to its limits; communication is still good via solicitors and text (just kidding). We think that if you can live with someone for two months solid, 24hrs a day in a 4×4 metre compartment and still come out laughing you know you’ve met your soul mate.
Cost of trip
Fuel – 2000euros
Tolls – 300euros
Food / entertainment – Who knows?
Running issues – Repaired oil leak, fixed fuel leak on one carb, one squeaky side door repair – all done free of charge by Mechanic extraordinaire, Robinson.
Psychiatry treatment to follow
Cost of whole trip – Priceless
‘Behind the pink’ – Check out the ’57 Split on handover day…