Having spent an unforgettable few days in Budapest celebrating, partying and obviously learning it was time to bundle into the van and follow the Danube north to Vienna. This was to be Charlie and Jake’s maiden voyage of our grand tour and seeing their excited faces filling up my rear view mirror was a nice change of scenery. We burst onto the motorway full of life, with a new collection of music and new company adding to the joy of road tripping, and to begin with the van seemed to be running like a dream despite the previous legs gear issues. This is a state that did not last long.
A breakdown on the trip was inevitable, the scale of the setback up in the air. A tyre is easy to change, overheating was a possibility but no major drama and the simple air-cooled engine doesn’t require a rocket scientist to maintain. A transmission issue, such as a hole in the gear box was one of the worst-case scenarios, one that would completely immobilise the van and entail a large mechanics bill. And this is what happened. As annoying as losing out home for a week was it was the drawn-out death of the gearbox that was most frustrating. Selecting gears became harder and harder throughout the final voyage up to Vienna, inciting a lot of road rage on the way until eventually it became impossible. Trying to get into a gear just wasn’t happening, and as much as I wiggled the stick about there was no hope, which led to angrier wiggling of the stick and a plethora of fowl language. We couldn’t even push the van into a free car park or move it in anyway, we just had to pack our things and search for a home for the night. In retrospect, the fact I coaxed the van into the car park of the national stadium was a minor miracle. Utilising the final gear left we crawled all the way from the motorway junction to the stadium in third , which definitely didn’t do much for the clutch’s health. There is no good place to break down but doing so in Vienna really rubbed salt into the wounds. The price was going to be extortionate, an apartment for a few nights would be as well and the fact the van was sent to a Porsche garage didn’t help. Although there was a silver lining as Ferdinand Porsche, who was Austrian, played a vital role in creating the VW van legacy so there was some sweet circularity I could chuckle at. It was a sad moment ringing up the insurance company to call in the death and arrange a tow truck, and even sadder seeing the van be taken away. Luckily, the chaps were on hand to cheer me up. As the language barrier created some issues with the tow truck locating us we had a lot of time to kill, which was effectively done so by frisbee golf. Using our surroundings, we created a car park course, using anything from trees to street lamps to map out the ‘holes’ and we spent hours flinging the disc about until nigh time fell. Once the truck had arrived and hooked up Fanny we were rendered homeless, and as the van was rolled out we began the long walk to the Airbnb we had to book as a replacement. What had served as our home and transport for the last month was now being towed to a garage and, not to be to overdramatic, it felt losing a child (not that I’ve ever lost a child). A bond between someone and their car is like no other, you discover their personalities and character and take so much joy from them, so to see them crippled is a sad moment, and one any owner dreads. But the show had to go on, so we got our stuff, made it to our flat and rinsed the complimentary wine given to us. As with anything in life, there are going to be ups and downs and road tripping is no exception, and this down was the one of the lowest we had, and an annoying one to sort out over the following days in Vienna.