Summer is often a time when we hit the road, loading up the car with all our camping gear and heading off to discover new places and, more often than not, meet up with old friends. As with so much of travel, sometimes the best memories and unexpected moments happen during the journey and not at the destinations. It was at one break on a road in Denmark that we went for a walk and discovered an old ski jump occupying possibly the only real hill in the region, and wondered what it was like to grow up as a ski jumper at sea level. In Sweden we stopped to watch the boats navigate the locks of the Göta canal. In France we followed a small sign in a village to take a break and a swim in a beautiful lake, the name of which we would never discover.
In Slovenia we crossed a mountain pass where memorials to the prisoners of war who built it told the bloody story of the road we were travelling on. Roads take us to places and link us to the history of communities, of trade and of the movement of people. They remind us that we are connected, and they help us learn more about the places we travel to and the people who live there. Here are some more things we love about getting in the car and hitting the road:
Not all service stations offer only traffic fumes, lukewarm canteen food and overpriced coffee. Some offer a view. We stopped off the motorway above Walensee, Switzerland, for the toilet and stayed a while to take in the lake and the mountains. The picnic spot is possibly the finest of any service station in Europe. Some things don’t change, however. The coffee was both miserable and expensive.
In the Azores it felt like nearby every corner on the islands’ winding roads offered up a viewpoint with a picnic spot. Travelling in the winter, we usually had them to ourselves, but on one occasion we were sharing the spot with a view of the sea cliffs and lighthouse below with a group of friends who were celebrating the local public holiday with wine and a traditional cake that they were more than happy to share.
Building up the tent for just one night can be a bit of a pain, especially after a long day on the road, but there have been some lovely discoveries born out of the necessity of taking a longer break. In Sweden we found a campsite on a lake that we had pretty much to ourselves for the last day of our road trip, while in Denmark we built up the tent by the water and then set off in search of the local neighbourhood giants.
Where the roads go
There are certain stretches of road that have long been on our list. The coastal road of Antrim, hugging the northern Irish coast. The mountain passes of the Alps. And the bridges of Denmark. These giants are marvels of engineering and – as the Tour de France riders discovered last week – they make for a spectacular crossing. Just make sure you keep your eyes on the road.
Sometimes it is good to change plans. To take a chance on the road that leads off into the wilderness and see what you might find. This photograph was taken in Spain, somewhere inland between Almeria and the Alpujarras. The road led down a narrow valley that echoed with the sound of hunters’ rifles. Above, birds of prey circled so we stopped by the side of the road to see if we could get a better look.
A road trip means time. Hours and hours sitting side by side, listening to music, admiring the view and, as time goes by, making plans. Our road trips have often been a time to make big decisions, as well as plans for future journeys. Here we were on our way home from the Baltic coast, stopping for a break in the Feldberger lake district north of Berlin. We had no time to linger, but just a short stop was enough to know that we would be back…
Photographs: Katrin Schönig
Words: Paul Scraton