« The ride that killed our van vibe!”
Maybe I am too hard on it, but I’m sure that now I’ve caught your attention. Take two people with a 3 month old baby, put them in a van still being converted to adapt it for the arrival of a little monster and you can get an idea of the family odyssey we’ve been trough.
Now get your popcorn ready, put the kettle on and ….. nothing: just read!
Overview of our camper road trip in Central Europe
Before telling you exactly where we’ve been and what we’ve done, I thought that presenting you with some numbers could be of interest. Keep in mind that this post is only an outline of our itinerary and that you’ll be able to find more info on the post of each city (once they’re written down!).
20h on a ferry
Strasbourg, right at the border with Germany, is an absolute must see.
We arrived there after a couple of sleepless nights in the middle of France highways. By the way : tolls and gas here are expensive as hell, so do your full tank somewhere like Intermarché or Carrefour along the interstate and your ride will be a lot less cheaper. Only Italy has worst prices in this part of Europe! But we had to move fast because we had booked the 4 month doctor appointment for Cesare in Strasbourg, so we couldn’t taste the the slow-life style of van life.
The city of Strasbourg is absolutely beautiful, I wouldn’t mind going back and spending some more time walking along the many canals and getting a taste of all the interesting restaurants we saw along the way.
We will write a more detailed post on what we’ve loved in Strasbourg, but in the meantime here’s a little pick of what we liked the best: the gorgeous cathedral that will take your breath away, the canals for a nice walk even while it’s pouring rain, the cute little streets of the historical center, and the restaurant with terrible service (probably because it was packed due to the rain and there were too many customers) but great Japanese food.
Once Cesare got better after his appointment, we packed and headed to Munich…
Finally, no tolls and we had no expected it but the gas was cheaper… Simone was in heaven!
But heaven did not last that long… as usual we drove too much and it started to take a toll (do you see what I did here?!) on us. With a baby it’s not easy at all to plan and understand how long you can go and how much time the stops are going to last.
In the end, we arrived with the rain falling from the German sky around 8pm, craving food and tired like parents of a 3 month child… Oh wait, that’s us! If you are parents you know what I mean.
Fortunately, since the hotel XX where we had booked a room was not in the center, it was possible to park on the street by the hotel for free. Which ended up being very economical since we extended our trip in Munich to take some more time to rest. The hotel was great, the room was very calm and there was a gym and a sauna in the hotel, which let us have a nice routine of caring for Cesare, eating, and taking a tiny little bit care of ourselves (finally!). In terms of food, the hotel was close to a mall with a lot of restaurants with vegan options: welcome to Germany! We didn’t try them all… but almost!
Yes, we took it very easy in Munich and spent a lot of time in the hotel and around it, but we also went to visit! The metro was rather easy to navigate and close to the hotel, so we didn’t need to move the van.
Munich has a cute city center, where we took a nice walk and had good vegan food.
We also made it to the fascination Science Museum where there’s plenty to do at all ages and you can get a beautiful view on the city from the top of the building.
On our way back from the Science Museum we noticed this vegan restaurant called EMMY’s kitchen, and went back on another day. It ended up being one of our favorite vegan restaurants ever! They had Beyond sausages and vegan desserts to die for.
Did you know you could surf in the center of Munich? Simone absolutely wanted to go check this place out and it was totally worth it!
As usual, we didn’t plan our itinerary very well and ended up driving too much without anywhere to sleep in sight… We don’t like to sleep at highway stops since they’re not very safe, but we didn’t have much of a choice (Slovenia is one of the least vanlife-friendly place in Europe). This was just after crossing the border between Austria and Slovenia. Simone ended up sleeping in the front of the van while Cesare and I curled up in the back (the back was full of stuff and not really made for sleeping on this trip!).
The next day we arrived in Bled in the morning and had breakfast in a vegan-friendly place overran by bees (like the rest of the country, it would turn out). We went for a walk to see the lake but it was too hot, the car was too far, we were tired and didn’t feel our best. Of course it was jam packed with people, but as Simone puts it, it was cute but not « OMG why can’t I live here?!”. So we didn’t stay long and left to make it to our hotel.
Cerklje na Gorenjskem
Our hotel was lost in the Slovenian country, in a little town with a church full of golden items. There was also a supermarket, surprisingly full of vegan stuff!
On one afternoon, we drove to Ljubljana. It was very nice, we enjoyed our walk in the old town and around the university.
We had a very late lunch at a vegan Ayurvedic place before heading back to our hotel. We didn’t make it to the castle but… next time?!
Plansarsko Jezero (Plansar lake)
We met Simone’s relatives at Plansarsko Jezero. The whole point of going to Slovenia was actually to spend some time with them so it was great to be able to meet them there! We did a little hike and headed back to the van first because the rain was starting and Cesare had fallen asleep in the ring sling on Simone and we didn’t want to wake him up by talking. The nature was amazing, it was so green and dreamy!
We parked the van at a Park4night spot pretty far from town. It was by the water, where people were bathing and fishing. Once again, it was great to walk amidst lush nature and cute houses. The town is tiny but gorgeous, and we loved the feeling it gave us. We walked all the way to the gorgeous bridge, then went back and walked up to the castle to enjoy the view. Then we walked back to the van where we enjoyed a moment of rest with the sound of the water flow.
We met again with Simone’s relatives in the little town of Radovljica, which was mainly a large pedestrian street with cute houses and shops. There’s also a stunning view point to sight even more of this beautiful lush nature that Slovenia is made of!
That was our last day trip in Slovenia before leaving the country. Now our next and ultimate goal for this road trip was to reach Vilnius by the time we had to be there. Like for the rest of this trip, we had planned nothing and booked accommodations according to how far we drove on a given day.
Don’t ask us, we didn’t understand a thing about parking in Vienna. It’s a mystery how we succeeded on parking the van in front of the apart’hotel without getting fined for the duration of our stay. We stayed outside the city center, and just had to take the subway. Once in the center, you can basically walk everywhere.
We stopped first by the opera, went to a view point, checked out the park with the greenhouses (which were closed because it was pretty late) then walked through busy touristy streets full of luxury shops (Simone totally hated that part) to the cathedral. And let me tell you… what a sight!! I did a double take because of how gorgeous this place is. I was stunned into silence. We then walked a bit more until we reached a vegan buffet-style restaurant which was okay but not incredible.
Simone didn’t like the city but I rather did, even though I do agree it’s a rich city. And I think it can be the most enjoyable if you can spend some money to go have fancy drinks in fancy bars etc. Also… the smell of horse poo!!! Do not go to Vienna if you’re pregnant and sensitive to smell!
Ostrava, Czech Republic
I knew this city existed because I was aware a famous travel blogging conference had taken place there but that’s literally all I knew about Ostrava. I ended up loving the place even though I was extremely doubtful when we arrived.
We booked a nice hotel outside city center, which also had a gym with a sauna and a restaurant.
To go to the center, we took the bus and were amazed to be able to pay for tickets with our contactless cards. We first went to the city hall to go see the view from the observatory. It was absolutely worth it! We could even see Poland from up there.
Then we walked to get the tram to the mining complex of Lower Vítkovice where you can also find the Bolt Tower . It was pretty fascinating! We even went all the way to the science museum but we were tired and hungry so we didn’t have the time to visit and just went back to the hotel.
I fell totally in love with Warsaw. Once again, we booked an appart’hotel outside city center. It was great, with a convenience store just there and a pizza place with vegan pizza. The bus stop was also just outside the building.
We went to a great vegan restaurant with delicious food, then we went to the Galileo museum to go up to the observatory and see the view of the whole town. This is starting to sound repetitive, but it was absolutely worth it.
Then we crossed to the shopping area where we finally found organic nappies for Cesare !! I swear we had been looking everywhere for those and were running out pretty fast! We had a hot drink, then walked to the old town by taking a long cute street with colorful shops and restaurants.
We stopped by the university and walked its grounds, watched the people having drinks and relaxing, then reach the historical center. We walked around, tasting the atmosphere… there was a market with some concert so we didn’t stay long to protect our baby’s delicate ears before heading back to the apartment.
On another day we took the bus to the « alternative » part of town, where we started our visit by stopping at a bar with a vegan kitchen. We had some of the most amazing food of this trip in this very interesting place! It was great vegan versions of typical dishes and very tasteful.
Once our appetites were sated we walked around a bit to the Polish Vodka Museum but it was exceptionally closed on that day so we went to have a look at the neighborhood before taking another bus back to the historical center. We went to see what we didn’t have the time to visit the first time and then went back to the apartment.
We also went to another vegan place one night that we had difficulties finding but ended being good. On the way back, while waiting for the bus, we sat at the stop in front of a residential building and had a feeling of how Warsaw is changing. This obviously old place looked like what used to be, with mismatched curtains and guys lifting weights while watching tv, and it was totally surrounded by very modern skyscrapers. It felt a bit nostalgic… as we were when it was finally time to leave Warsaw.
Personally, I could have stayed much much longer and cannot wait to go back!
Middle of nowhere, Poland
On our way to Lithuania, we stopped in exactly 3 very interesting places in Poland.
First, we stopped in a gas station in the middle of nowhere, where they had delicious vegan hotdogs and an extremely nice woman at the counter if though she seemed very cold at first.
Second, we stopped at a garage not too far, because we had trouble opening the pipe where to put oil in the motor of the van (or something, don’t ask me, you get the gist of it). The guys working there first started looking at us super weirdly as if we were out of place (I don’t blame them), then somewhat understood that we seriously needed something for real. Then they started trying to understand what was going on, and with the help of Google translate, they succeeded in helping us! When we asked how much we owed them, they sent us off with a « bon voyage » in French and a half smile.
Poland, have I already told you that I love you?
Third, we booked an apartment in Augustow and the people renting it were absolutely top notch even if their command of the English language was limited (which will always be way way way more advanced than our command of Polish is, so we were only extremely happy!), and so was a the little convenience store standing just by the place and its employees.
Honestly, the Polish seemed cold on the outside to us, but I’ve never wanted to hug strangers so much in my life (kinda).
Finally, we had made it! Most of the motivation for this trip was our stay in Vilnius and I just couldn’t believe we had made it that far! When we arrived, we were shown the Tinggly Blogger house where we would be staying for 4 days. Let me tell you, that place was stunning! A gorgeous mezzanine loft with everything you need to work and have a good time. We are very grateful for this opportunity that we enjoyed greatly!
Tinggly had organized for us a private guided tour of Vilnius and we had a great time. This is definitely one of the best ways to discover a new city and we strongly recommend you to go on one of these guided tours. In almost 3hrs we managed to see a lot of the Lithuanian capital and we learned a great deal about the city, the country, and the inhabitants. We went on a loop from the Cathedral’s belfry, passing notably by the presidential palace, the university quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Republic of Uzupis etc. One of the thing we liked the most is that « life happens in the courtyards », which you can know more about in our post on Vilnius.
As we stayed a few days, we also had the time to go see the view from St John Church Bell Tower, situated in the university square (which we visited too) and other parts of the city.
We even tested a few vegan places including one we absolutely loved, and a great cocktail bar.
Kaunas is very different from Vilnius! It’s much smaller, and felt a bit more « bourgeois ». We stayed in an apartment close to everything and enjoyed visiting the cute old town.
My favorite part though? Simone bringing me vegan chocolate donut from Holy Donuts every morning!
At first, we wanted to stop a few weeks close to the sea in Lithuania because we were really tired of going around so much with a baby. But then we realized we needed a real break, a real pause in traveling, and to recharge our batteries with some social interactions. So we made the decision to get back to Paris as fast as we could. To save ourselves some time and kilometers, we booked a ferry trip from Klaipeda to Kiel (Germany).
We still had a couple of days before taking the ferry, so we booked an apartment (in a house I’m half-convinced is haunted!) and visited the center of Klaipeda, which is rather cute too. We loved the atmosphere, the little streets and the port. The weather wasn’t very clement though, it was rainy and very windy, and rather cold. For that reason (added to our general fatigue), we didn’t even make it to the beach…
Ferry from Klaipeda, Lithuania to Kiel, Germany
The whole experience really needs to be detailed so we will write a detailed blog post about it. But here’s the main facts. We arrived way too early at the port, so we went to a fast food to get something to eat. It was incredibly windy and the fast food part took forever since service is not what I would call Lithuania’s strength. Then we headed back to the port, made sure about the right way to get in, changed Cesare’s nappy, and went to wait on the queue in the van. We were in the 10 first cars in line. However we ended up being in the 10 last cars in!! It took forever and that was not fun with a baby.
Once on the ferry though we were pretty happy with everything ! We had booked an exterior (which means it had a window) cabin with two beds, and a bathroom. That was a great great thing to do!
Going out to see the sea was amazing too… and we survived with the food so honestly we loved it!
The only thing was that to leave it was once again a huge mess since the van was parked with the big trucks. It honestly felt like there had been a mistake and we were practically last to leave the ferry. Again, not ideal with a baby.
If you have experienced taking this ferry with a camper we would love to know if it went the same way!
Germany – part 2!
We booked last minute a hotel room to get some sleep at night before driving back towards Paris. The place was great even though the restaurant staff practically didn’t understand English (we got something different than what we ordered…).
It was close to a beach and if I didn’t get to go, Simone went with Cesare and loved it!
Once again we found ourselves exhausted after a day of driving in the van and Cesare’s having enough of his car seat, at night, with no plan. I don’t know how, but we ended up finding a decently priced hotel room and headed there right away. We ended up paying a small fortune for dinner but we were happy to have a good night sleep!
In the morning we went to a nearby mall to get a couple of stuff we needed for Cesare, before getting back in the van.
We had planned to make another stop, but we ended up arriving at my mother’s place around midnight. Once again we had found ourselves earlier in the evening with no good prospect of where to stop, and having to deal with a huge tantrum from Cesare.
Once he fell back to sleep, we decided to push as far as we can before he woke up, and that if he woke up and was upset, we would stop and sleep in the van. Simone was also extremely tired of driving, particularly at night on deserted long straight roads…, but Cesare did not wake up and Simone hung tight so we made it at my mother’s and that was the end of this Central Europe trip!
What an adventure! I think there’s a lot to learn from this trip – with its good points and the mistakes we made. Even though as I wrote this all I could think about was “when will I ever sleep a whole night?” and how tired I feel and how exhausting this trip had been… I already want to get back to traveling!