DEPARTURE DAY HAD finally arrived. A rash of last minute fixes ensured that our £750 outfit was ready for a 3000-mile trek to Croatia.

Volvo and Sprite in perfect harmony

Volvo and Sprite are as ready as they'll ever be for a long European jaunt

After all this work, I was more than a little disappointed to find as I hooked up that the rear lights on the nearside of the Sprite had packed up in the two weeks since it had last been used. With a ferry to catch on the opposite side of the M25 and the clock ticking, I maintained my legendary good humour as I lay in the road outside my house, field-stripping a 26-year old caravan light fitting. My worry was that during the course of all the damp repairs she'd recently seen, the light wiring had been damaged. With all the cables behind the new wallboard, there's no quick fix for that.

As luck would have it though, I touched the bulbs and they lit up momentarily. That spells a dodgy connection. I cleaned both bulb holders and the bulbs with a bit of emery paper, replaced them and got back in the car, more than a little bit relieved. Mirrors on, lights checked and passports in hand, we headed off.

Hitting the road

The trip to Dover from home was uneventful. Traffic was light although despite this, our lighting maladies meant we were a few minutes late. The lovely lady from P&O ensured we got on OK though, and after waiting no more than five minutes, our modest little outfit trundled into the bowels of the Pride of Canterbury for the short hop across to Calais, dwarfed by grown-up caravans, huge trucks and few big motorhomes.

The trip across was smooth, despite warnings of a slight swell. An hour later, we were on French soil. The best route down was subject to frank and open discussions between the lovely Mrs Donnelly and myself but once we'd established that coffee and mini-Jaffa Cake rations were being decided by her, we agreed that her way was best.

The aim had always been to get to Croatia, but we didn't want to have two or three days of solid driving at the start and end of the trip. Instead, we decided to tour south-east through Europe and have a couple of mini-city breaks along the way.

First of these was hoped to be Luxembourg. Perhaps not top of everyone's list of must-see European destinations, the city is said to be very impressive. The thing is, with 110 miles under our belt in the UK, bolting on a further 300-plus miles through France, Belgium and Luxembourg was a bit of a big ask. Especially with a £470 towcar.

Still, we decided to see how we got on, and Mrs D began flicking through the Camping Cheque 2011 book, the ACSI guide and the Caravan Club's excellent Caravan Europe 2 in order to track down suitable sites.

E numbers are good for you

Our route was pretty direct, but switching between numerous countries means it is wise to follow the Europe-wide 'E' road numbers rather the local ones which usually carry 'A' classifications. The E roads ignore national boundaries, so you can follow one road across several countries without having to remember what the road is called where you are.

From Calais we headed along the A16 (E40) to Dunkirk, although our only detour occurred when a British coach driver sped up to ensure we couldn't change lane to get on the right road. How we laughed.
This left us with no choice but to go on the E15 toll road to Lens. As luck would have it, it was easy enough to leave the road at the next junction and turn back without paying a toll, but I still enjoyed a quiet game of 'pin the rude name on the coach driver' as we got back on track.

We followed the A16 (E40) to Dunkirk, where we switched to the A25 (E42). We passed Lille, entered Belgium onto the A16 but it retained the E42 number so was easy to follow. The A16 changed to the A7 but again remained as the E42 all the way to Namur. Here we headed south-east on the E411 which took us all the way across to the Luxembourg border. In Luxembourg, this became the A6 (E25) and we left this at junction 6 to get on the A4. At the first junction, we left and picked up the signs to Camping Kockelsheuer, the first site of our trip.

Volvo and Sprite in perfect harmony

Long way from home, but car, caravan and passengers were all ready for a rest

Site for a night

According to the Caravan Club's Europe 2 book, Kockelsheuer is clean, very near Luxembourg city and suffers occasional aeroplane noise. All are completely true. There was one plane in the whole evening on the day we arrived, so it is hardly a problem but the site is spotless. There was one other UK caravanner on site when we arrived, as well as a couple of motorcaravans and two hardy Brits in a hiking tent and a VW Polo. Other than that, it was mainly a mixture of Dutch and Belgian visitors with one Swedish bloke who spent an entire evening trying to line up a satellite dish.

As sites go, it is perfect for a short stop. Clean and tidy, easy to find from the main road and with buses every eight minutes into the centre of Luxembourg city. The site owner could generously be described as lacking a little charisma, but he changed up some money for us, sold us bus tickets and reminded us to order some croissants for the morning before directing us to our pitch.

We were delighted to get onto our wide, level pitch and get the kettle on. We were tired after a long day on the road, but happily, both car and van were in the pink with around 400 miles under their wheels. Sat in the van, with a cuppa and sarnie, we weren't too bad either.

DAY 2 - Click here

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