Jean Claude VAN Damn

…sometimes more damn than van.

Hello and welcome aboard the road trip of a lifetime. And it all begins at potentially the dodgiest looking establishment in Paris where the most ripped, steroid inducing, child, no,  adult devouring nugget of a Pit Bull resides. Let’s call him The Big Bad Butcher from Bendigo (A.K.A Triple BFB) as all serial killers need a proper title of the like and because there’s a guy from my old work who was coined with the same title who incidentally had arms short enough to rival a Parisian Pit Bull.

Ok, back on track. I promised less ranting this post but bugger it I’ve got to tell you about our new mate. Anyway, at this particular establishment we picked up Jean Claude, the new wheels. I smelled a rat as soon as we got to the camper hire place, because Tiple BFB had killed all the cats within 200 km and there were none to kill the rats in this guy’s shed. The next rat stink came when the bloke showing us our van opened the side door up, presenting a pretty filthy state of affairs while saying something like, “Ok, so it is clean now, you must bring it back the same clean, ok?.” in broken English. Shouldn’t be hard, I thought. He pretty much skimmed over the rest of the van while adding comments like, “This is a very good one, very low kilometres!”, Errr, yeah. What he did do well was take our money and tell me emphatically that if there were any problems to give him a call any time of the day. I bet that phone number is fake, if not I’m going to sign him up to every telemarketer in India once we’re done.

Anywho, Jean Claude’s a VW T5 Transporter, but don’t let the preceding (and likely following) rant put a sour taste in your mouths about VW’s as I’m pretty sure that’s the only reason this things is still on the road, although hanging on for dear life but the tiniest of threads. Jean Claude is a sweet rig, I shit you not, but I swear Triple BFB (the one from Bendigo) did most of the fit out inside because a T-Rex could do a better job at making a bed than this guy has (picture in your mind’s vivid imagination a T-Rex putting a fitted sheet on a bed and you should get a taste of how hopeless he’d be) and no doubt a T-Rex wouldn’t use half inch plaster screws to hold together 2″ chip board furniture. I use the word furniture very loosely. He’s a bit of a Galvo, you might say. He’s not that old but he’s had a rough trot. Mount Isans alone will understand that reference sorry.

So the trip started at the good old Auchan, (pretty well the French equivalent to a Wall Mart except you can’t make an “Only at Wall Mart” style picture compilation from Auchan customers because the French dress too well) where we stocked up on everything we thought we’d need for the following two months of driving. Wrong, but a good start anyway. We did buy a mocha pot / stove top espresso maker though, best purchase ever.

We were 100% stoked, regardless of how dodgy Jean Claude was, he was our dodgy rig and he’s the bomb. And he is still the bomb, just with a few intricacies.

We set off North to the Normandy region of France and pulled up in a little camping ground (that’s the European equivalent of a caravan park, this is camping their style of camping – tents are for hippies and activists) in Tourniere, just outside Caên and just South of the D-Day beaches. Awesome little spot and a fantastically friendly British couple running the show.

North was a cold choice. I was sitting there thinking that since Spring had just kicked in I’d be swanning around in a pair of shorts and singlet each day. No, that’s not how it works over here. A European Spring is very different to Spring in outback Australia.

The first night was a comedy of errors. Firstly, we didn’t have an extension cord in our van so we had to borrow one. Useless Aussies. Secondly, mains power was pretty useless to us anyway as all it powered at this point (because these guys don’t even give you a light) was the fridge which was warmer inside than outdoors to the tune of around 40 degrees celsius. So we settle in for the night which is where a few more enlightening discoveries occurred.

To begin with, the bed that Triple BFB put together was rubbish. It’d just been painted and I suspect the interior had been pulled out and rebuilt once the paint was (apparently) 80% dry, with parts left over.  At one spot there were three pieces of inch chipboard over lapping, producing a lump in the bed that would be of no use in determining whether a woman was in fact a real princess as the fabled story goes, although I’m pretty sure that one had a pea. The power inverter burnt out pretty much the entire 12V circuit and took a handful of fuses along for the ride, nice. The switch inside the fancy little caravan style tap on the sink died in the process so we had no water either. There’s a multitude of other things, including a few centimetres of cigarette ash in the ash tray that we discovered along the way that forced a moment of reflection and later a working bee of the likes Jean Claude had never seen.

The following morning we awoke to snow, that’s fine but when you don’t close the sliding door on your camper van properly it makes things pretty damn cold. We were up all night swearing about the “drafty bastard” of a van we’d chosen to live in but it turned out that we were just stupid. A mistake that has not since been made.

We spent that day essentially rebuilding Jean Claude. I bastardised the bed for quite some time and managed to get it into a form fit for sleeping on, rewired the majority of the power (except that damn tap that was beyond repair) and Lauren cleaned every surface until it was able to be considered a home. We were pretty well sorted.

So that’s the introduction to Jean Claude Van Damn. Sounds like some sort of nightmare right? Nope. It’s perfect, we’re loving every minute of it. There’s something pretty fantastic about pulling into a random beach somewhere that you never planned on visiting and just stopping there for the night and having a sneaky beer or two by the ocean. Magic.

Next up will be Normandy and the D-Day beaches. Much more inspiring stuff than me moaning about a car but at least now you’ve got a feel for how we’re getting around.

Till next time.


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