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Expect the unexpected: You will never be disappointed

On our 2008 motorhome trip, after a very long day’s driving through Bulgaria, I managed to drive straight into a car park barrier in Kavala, northern Greece. Naturally, this wasn’t good for the van.

It could have been a worse I suppose. Deploying my trusty roll of duct tape, I was able to make sure there were no leaks in the scraped and buckled roof, and that the solar panels stayed in place while we continued our drive.

The real worry was that, as we had bought the van on a lease/sell-back deal, we would not get our money back, which would scupper our plans to visit sub-Saharan Africa and the USA later in the year.

So instead of enjoying a few days in Venice, we headed straight from the ferry terminal to a Hymer garage in Augsburg, southern Germany.

The engineer there did a great job (and we did get the agreed price when we got back to the UK), but until the work was finished we had to spend an unplanned week in a dull, but cheap, hotel on the outskirts of Augsburg. The highlight of our week was lunch at a nearby garden centre.

I was hoping to avoid unexpected excitement on this trip, but regular readers may recall I managed to prang our van within a few hours of leaving home last September, which required a stopover in Dumfries for repairs.

And barely two weeks later, we had to make a detour to a Hymer garage, this time in Stuttgart, to get our leaking fresh water tank and the main blind in our living area fixed. Luckily, that took only a few hours.

Then about three weeks ago, we started to notice a regular leak from the boiler. Rather worryingly, the leak got faster every time we turned on a tap.

Luckily, as we were then on our way to Sicily, we found a Truma dealer close to Catania airport, from where we were flying to Malta for a few days.

After a stilted conversation with Giuseppe, a salesman with broken English (since I have no Italian, I can’t complain), we left the van with him and returned five days later to find the boiler as good as new, with a new valve and a repair to a small hole.

But…just as we were about to drive off, Giuseppe’s cheerful colleague asked, in Italian, if we knew about the brakes!

They had been rather temperamental for most of the trip, but apparently the problem was now so bad they needed to be fixed straight away. This despite a full service and MOT a few days before we set off.

After some confusion, Giuseseppe’s mate, and his mate, drove us – in the van – to a nearby Fiat garage for a proper diagnosis.

The manager was reassuringly friendly who, even though he spoke no English, exuded calm and expertise. And Google Translate has its uses.

Yes, the brakes needed fixing. It was the master cylinders, front and rear…oh and the cable needing replacing. Now my mechanical knowledge is close to zero, but that would explain the stiff brakes.

By this time it was around 5.30pm, and the van would obviously have to be kept in the garage overnight.

Luckily, there was a hotel about 10 minutes’ walk away and a couple of places to eat around the nearby harbour. In the end ended up staying two nights in the hotel, as the garage had to wait for parts.

So now, as we look forward to the driving up the north west coast of Italy, and on to the south of France, we are, unexpectedly, several hundred euros poorer. Rather more if you factor in the hotel and extra food, but at least we have a boiler that doesn’t leak and brakes that work.

One lesson from this is to make sure you have a reserve for repairs up your sleeve, as you really don’t know when things, big or small, will go wrong. And they will.

Another tip is not to have too many fixed points in your trip, or you may end up missing that ferry, plane or birthday party.

And, finally, learn to love nondescript, budget hotel rooms – you never know when you’re going to need one.

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