What Famagogo's 6-Month European Van Adventure Looked Like
Jan 25, 2020 | By: Peter & Kathy Holcombe
In June, the Holcombe family shipped their Revel from Baltimore, MD to Zeebrugge, Belgium for a six-month European adventure. They traveled 40,000 miles across 18 countries: from the top of Norway to the tip of Spain, and the mountains of Croatia to the coast of Scotland. Here are some of the highlights of their journey…
We arrived in Paris a few days ahead of the Revel and spent our days exploring the city. As we wandered through the galleries of the Musée d’Orsay, Abby spotted this painting that she had used in a school report and exclaimed “I had no idea how big it was!”. Some things you just can’t learn from a textbook.
Our first month in Europe was spent exploring the Pyrenees around the small mountain town of Sort, Spain. The peaks were dotted with tiny villages, that left us feeling like we had travelled back in time to an era long past.
Sort, Spain was the location of the Freestyle Kayak World Championships, and the entire mountain village was filled with kayakers from around the world competing for the title of World Champion. Abby qualified for one of the positions to represent team USA at the event, and spent the month of June training and competing amongst the best kayakers in the world.
The energy in Sort skyrocketed as paddlers progressed through preliminary rounds over the course of a week to a very dramatic finish as paddlers from around the world performed aerial maneuvers in an attempt to claim the title. Abby ended up placing 4th in the world and we couldn’t be more proud of her accomplishments.
Between training and competing in Sort, we took some time to explore the breathtaking scenery along the Noguera Pallaresa River just downstream of the freestyle competition feature.
The Revel proved to be the perfect vehicle for our European odyssey. It was small and nimble enough to maneuver comfortably through both large cities and small villages, and rugged enough to take us down remote mountain trails in the French Alps.
Peter’s creativity was supercharged in the Alps and he was up with the sun every morning taking full advantage of the golden hour to capture the majestic scenery.
Just below the Chateau Queyras in the Hautes-Alpes in Southeastern France, lies the Gorges du Guil. Abby loved exploring the tight confines of the gorge in her kayak.
Just above the River Guil was one of our very favorite adventures: the Via Ferrata de Fort-Queyras. A via Ferrata is essentially a ladder that is embedded in a cliff with a cable that runs alongside the route where you can attach a harness as a safety precaution. It was an extraordinary way to explore to confines of the Guil Gorge.
Boondocking and free camping opportunities are abundant throughout Europe, and this spot above Lac émosson in the French Alps was absolutely dreamy.
Abby taking in the French Alps.
We often elected to travel on the smaller secondary roads over the highways of Switzerland and were rewarded with magnificent scenery every single time.
I think Winnebago knew exactly how we would feel on this adventure when they named the Revel. We certainly “reveled” in every moment we spent in the Alps.
Before we left the States, we built in a drawer system in the garage area of the Revel to help us organize our gear. What we didn’t know at the time was what a fabulous work station it would prove to be. Peter spent countless hours in his “stand-up office” as we explored Europe.
One of our major objectives of this European adventure was to explore Norway. It was a steep and rugged six-mile hike to reach pulpit rock, but oh, what a place!
The tunnels in Norway are a marvel to behold. The Lærdal Tunnel the longest road tunnel in the world at over 15 miles long, and was designed with lighting that mimics the sunrise to help relieve the monotony and keep drivers awake for the 20 minutes drive through a huge mountain.
Voss, Norway is one of the premier whitewater kayaking destinations in the world. Here, Kathy tackles one of the rapids on the Play Run of the River Raundalselvi.
We set out to explore the tundra in Dovrefjell National Park in Norway and stumbled across a trio of muskox. They are ornery and prehistoric, and observing them in the wild was pure magic.
Crossing into the arctic circle has long been a dream for us, and the line in Norway is marked with endless cairns leading out across the horizon.
The Lofoten Islands in Northern Norway was punctuated with quaint fishing villages and spectacular scenery.
The trail to this overlook at Reinebringen was comprised of 3120 knee-high steps. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Norway has a law that guarantees the right to camp for up to 48 hours as long as you are at least 100 meters away from any structure regardless of who owns the property. There are thousands of pristine places like this that are perfect boondocking sites across the country. A strong ethic to leave no trace keeps these spots clean and available.
The bridges in Norway are a perfect blend of form and function. Lofoten, Norway
As much as we love our Revel, we also love escaping it and spending a few days in the wilderness. While the visitor center in Nordkapp, Norway is the primary destination for those seeking the northern-most point of Europe, there is actually another peninsula just across the bay that is a few meters farther north that is only accessible via foot.
We spent a couple of days backpacking to the true northernmost point of Europe and found ourselves surrounded by reindeer. We arrived just as their coats were turning from brown to white in preparation for the winter snow.
Abby flipped out at how amazing the Holme Pierrepont British Whitewater center was. This will be the site of the next ICF Freestyle Kayaking World Championships in 2021.
The cows of Scotland stole our hearts at first glance.
We have always been intrigued by the mountain lore of Ben Nevis (the highest peak in the United Kingdom), and couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience it ourselves.
While most of our ascent of Ben Nevis was sunny and beautiful, this peak lived up to its foul weather reputation and swallowed us in a sea of clouds just as we reached the summit.
We went to Europe with a vague plan of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, which allowed us the freedom to explore many magical places we discovered along the way. As we crossed Germany, we couldn’t resist the allure of this beautiful valley.
While many of the roads across Europe were narrow and tight, this tunnel through a home in Germany had us on the edge of our seats as we greased through it with only inches to spare.
Abby’s goal on this trip was to explore as many kayaking features as possible. Here she flies high at the site of the 2011 Freestyle World Championships in Plattling, Germany.
The Soça River in Slovenia was one of the most pristine rivers in Europe.
There are countless ferries across Europe and we loved where they could take us. Here the Revel is headed to the Isle of Rab in Croatia.
We spent a week living out of our kayaks as we circumnavigated the Isle of Rab, Croatia.
From the crystalline waters and the surreal landscape to the wonderful people who welcomed us at every stop, the Isle of Rab captivated our imaginations and stole our hearts.
The autumn foliage in the mountains of Croatia was a wonderful surprise as we ascended from the warm waters of the Adriatic Sea.
Exploring the mountains was a sobering reminder of the devastating impact of a war waged more than 25 years ago. These mountains are lined with both memorials to those lost, along with active landmines that have yet to be cleared from the Croatian War in the early 1990s. The people of Croatia are incredibly kind and grateful to the American people for helping them achieve their independence.
The waterways of Venice was one place that our Revel could not go. So we parked it outside of the city and used the canals to explore the city.
We were fortunate to have beautiful weather and empty streets as we explored Venice.
After exploring the Alps and the mountains of Norway, we thought that we had seen the most beautiful mountains of Europe…and then we discovered the Dolomites in northern Italy.
If you look carefully at the peak on the right, you might spot one of the many mountain huts that welcome skiers and hikers in for a wonderful meal and a warm bed. These are often situated in remote and dramatic places high in the Alps.
Right-side up or upside down?!? Either way you look at it, the Dolomites were breathtaking.
The Revel was in it’s element in the mountains of northern Italy.
Steep mountains? No problem, just add a few more switchbacks!
As we ascended into the Dolomites, the golden boughs of the Larch trees were captivating.
Although we were warned repeatedly about leaving our van unattended in southern Spain, the seaside boondocking was top notch.
Abby loved exploring the beaches just outside of Gibraltar.
The Gibraltar welcoming committee was all smiles as we hiked to the top of the rock.
All along the coast of both Spain and Portugal were free parking areas like this where RVers migrated south to escape the doldrums of winter.
Abby loved exploring the sea cliff formations in her kayak along the southern coast of Portugal.
The infamous waves of Nazare, Portugal were monstrous. And they doubled in size the day we left!!
We shipped our Revel home from Southampton, England, and enjoyed a few days in London before flying back to the States. Here is the changing of the guards at Windsor Castle.
Taking a Winnebago around the world seemed like a completely crazy notion at first, and in all honesty, when we were drowning in a sea of logistics trying to pull off the first leg of our world tour, I really wondered if shipping our Revel abroad would be worth the headaches. But after a long day navigating new cultures, landscapes and languages, retreating to the familiarity of our own home was an immense comfort. As we pulled the blinds at night we felt completely safe and content regardless of the exotic and unfamiliar reality that surrounded us. It helped ease the fatigue that often accompanies international travel and made us feel right at home regardless of where we were parked. We weren’t quite ready to come home and cannot wait to start planning Phase Two of the Famagogo World Tour. Where should we go next??