the empty nest road trip

Following the Memorys around Europe in October 2016

Day 18: Home

snapseedWe did it!  The road trip is over and the good news is we are still talking to each other!

We needed to de-ice the car before we could leave Maastricht and fog accompanied us all the way to Calais but after leaving the Eurotunnel train we had a gloriously sunny drive back to Gloucester.  We even had time to hoover the car and get some laundry done before settling down to supper.

We will post some overall reflections later, together with a few more photos but for now we will just summarise the trip in a few statistics:

  • In all, we visited 16 countries, if you include the UK, some of them on multiple occasions.  As a result, in total we crossed 23 borders but only showed our passports 4 times.
  • We drove 3758 miles, which is 6048 kilometres.
  • Though the Euro was a great help in most countries we still needed to use Koruna, Zloty, Forint, Kuna and Francs in two countries…we will let you work out where.
  • We met up with 13 sets of friends which included ECM colleagues in 7 locations and 3 current or former Redcliffe students.  We slept in 11 different beds – 3 AirBnB bookings, 1 Ibis Budget hotel and 7 homes.

For now we just want to thank God for his protection and that we had no problems with the car.  And we want to give particular thanks to all those who hosted us during our trip.  It has been an amazing experience and has taught us a lot about the on-the-ground realities of Europe today.  And to those who have followed the blog, thanks for travelling with us and praying for us.



Day 17: Maastricht

The final location of our road trip was Maastricht, home of our dear friends and ECM co-workers Roland and Carolien Smith and family. Maastricht is the capital city of the Dutch province of Limburg, a region of the Netherlands that sits below the rest of the country between Belgium and Germany.  It is one of the oldest cities in Holland but is best known as being the birthplace of the European Union.

The Treaty on European Union, commonly known as the Maastricht Treaty, was signed on 7th February 1992 by the 12 countries that then comprised the European Community.  The treaty established European citizenship, the European Parliament that represents them, the European Central Bank, the Euro, and institutions to deal with foreign policy and security, justice, the environment and social policy across the Union.  Its ratification caused no end of bother and though it introduced lots of good things many of the tensions in the EU today can also be traced back to Maastricht.

We cycled into town with our friends, right past the riverside building of the Limburg provincial government where the treaty was signed, and into the old city centre.  As we are sure most of you know, the bicycle rules in the Netherlands and bikes were everywhere.  We parked up and then walked along the old city walls, through the narrow streets and over the Roman bridge.

It seems appropriate that the last two days of this road trip have seen us visit both Schengen and Maastricht.  Without question, the Schengen Agreement and the Maastricht Treaty greatly helped us on this trip: the open borders of the Schengen Area making it much easier to travel and the Euro simplifying the currency we needed to carry.  Yet the tensions around migration in many countries we have visited make us wonder if these arrangements will last.

Tomorrow we will drive back to Calais, take the Eurotunnel train and make our way back to Gloucester.  We will make a final post on our arrival and then put some posts with concluding thoughts and photos in the days to come before signing off the blog for good.


Day 16: Schengen

There is a village at the southernmost tip of Luxembourg where the borders of Luxembourg, France and Germany meet at the River Moselle.  Schengen has a small church, a few sleepy shops but nothing much to make this village of just 4313 inhabitants anything memorable.  And yet because of the 1985 agreement between the governments of France, West Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands that was signed on a boat near the village, today you can travel from the north of Finland to the south of Portugal without once showing your passport.  A small square sign is often all that indicates that you have crossed a border between two countries in the now famous Schengen Area.

Today we actually passed through all five of the original signitory countries on our journey from the Alsace to Maastricht.  Of course our passports stayed in our bags.  In fact we have only had to take them out three times in our whole trip, once at the UK/France border, once on entering Croatia from Hungary and once on leaving Croatia for Slovenia.  Border controls may have been eliminated but other significant discrepancies remain.

Just a few miles up the road from Schengen is the town of Remich, also on the Luxembourg side of the border with Germany.  We had passed through it on the second day of our trip and found eight petrol stations in the half mile before the border – the result of Luxembourg’s low fuel duty making diesel twenty Euro cents cheaper than in Germany.  Needless to say there was a long line of German cars waiting to fill up.

I could make a comment here about other aspects of Luxembourg’s tax regime, like their deal with Amazon, but this blog isn’t really the place for that.  We filled up and made our way to another small town that most people outside the Netherlands had ever heard of until 1992: Maastricht.

Day 15: Driving through the Alsace

You don’t just get in the car and set off when you do a road trip like this (well Christine doesn’t anyway!). There was a lot to prepare beforehand apart from booking up the places to stay.

Firstly we got the car checked over thoroughly so it was in good condition, informed the insurance company we were taking it abroad and took out European Breakdown Cover, just in case! Then it was a matter of checking the requirements for each country about what you need to carry with you in the car. Visiting this many countries meant we had to make sure we had the car’s paperwork and carried a warning triangle, two high viz jackets, a spare set of bulbs for the headlamps, spare fuses, a GB sticker, a first aid kit and two breathalysers.

We also set off with our itinerary, a good Europe road map and our sat nav. We knew the latter covered Europe but didn’t realise until we left Germany for the Czech Republic, that it only covered Western Europe! Oops! This meant some extra stress finding all the places we needed to get to and a relief that data roaming charges have been coming down recently as we had to use Jim’s phone sat nav a couple of times.

Finally, some countries charge for the use of their motorways which may be pay as you go tolls or prepaid vignettes (3 stickers and one electronic). With two countries we managed to avoid these by using minor roads as we weren’t there long enough to justify it!

Today we drove from Lausanne in Switzerland to a village just West of French Strasbourg to stay with some friends who were in Gloucester for a few years until recently. We drove through the beautiful Alsace region appreciating the vast areas of vineyards in all their autumnal splendour and the quaint historic mediaeval towns.


Day 14: Geneva

Although we are staying in Lausanne during our time in Switzerland we really wanted to spend a day in Geneva.  In the middle of the 16th Century Calvin’s Geneva became a safe haven for protestants who were fleeing persecution.  The arrival of French, Italian and Spanish protestant refugees saw the city’s population go from 12,000 to 20,000 in just a few short years.    It is a sad irony that Switzerland recently held a national referendum on the control of migration.  Following the result, restrictions on migration will mean that life will be increasingly difficult for the many non-Swiss who commute daily from France and those who are seeking refuge in Switzerland today.

We had a look round the reformed cathedral, saw Calvin’s Chair, the building opposite the cathedral where many of the exiled protestant communities met, and of course the Reformation Wall with the statues of Calvin, Farrell, Beza and Knox.  We then went to the Reformation Museum where there is a fascinating collection of documents, books, paintings and artefacts related to Calvin and the reformation.

We then walked round the old city centre, went by the United Nations building and then out to Lac Léman, commonly known as Lake Geneva.

(On the 31st of October, Reformation Day, Jim will be giving a talk on the life of Juan Perez de Pineda in Cordoba. Juan Perez, born in Montilla where we worked for many years, was one of the 16th Century Spanish reformers who under threat of death fled Spain and found refuge in Geneva.  The building where many of the refugee communities met is opposite the cathedral).


Day 13: Overhill Underhill

Today was our final leg of three countries in one day: Austria, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.  We really enjoyed our stay with the Hammerle family – Austrians working in their own area in association with ECM but with three small kids, two girls and a boy, so it reminded us a lot of our own family 15+ years ago.

We hopped over the border from Austria into Liechtenstein, which is basically just a mountain and a single town Vaduz.  Liechtenstein is the 6th smallest country in the world, just 62 square miles and a total population of just 37,000.    The castle built into the rock is impressive though.  It’s not in the EU but is in EFTA and the Schengen Area and uses the Swiss Franc as its currency.  Bizarrely, the national anthem, “Oben am jungen Rhein” (“Up above the young Rhine”), is sung to the same melody as “God Save the Queen,” which meant that the same tune was played twice in a row when Northern Ireland met Liechtenstein in a UEFA Euro 2004 qualifier football match.    Before you know it you are over the border and into Switzerland.

We drove from west to east which you can do on the motorway but, despite the inclement weather, we really wanted to tackle the Klaussen Pass, a high mountain pass through the Swiss Alps.  The pass tops out at 1948 metres, 6391 feet which is nearly twice the height of Snowdon.  The drive was quite something though the photos don’t do it justice.

After that it was mainly motorway all the way to Lausanne.  But again that doesn’t do it justice either.  We lost count of the number of tunnels we drove through and they really are extraordinary feats of engineering.  How many man hours and how much money must have been invested to enable you to avoid driving over a mountain pass every few minutes?  Needless to say, it was a very memorable day’s driving.


Day 12: Beyond the Borders

We left South East Austria well rested and with a clean set of clothes for the long drive to Wolfurt in the West.  The quickest route for this journey actually takes you via Munich in Germany but we were keen to take the slightly longer southern route which makes a brief detour into Italy, the 12th country we have visited on this trip.

Shortly after crossing the border we stopped for a coffee and a bit of shopping and were surprised to find that everyone was still talking in German.  This road trip has reminded us again and again of just how many cultural and linguistic enclaves remain in Europe today.

Our first conversation with our AirBnB host in Belgium on Day 1 was about Belgium’s complex language communities – Flemish (Dutch) in the north, Walloon (French) in the south, bilingual Brussels and a strip of the country in the east ceded from Germany in war reparations where they still speak German.

Our ECM colleague in Krakow (Poland) is from a Polish speaking enclave in the Ukraine.  Our Hungarian colleague reminded us of the large Hungarian speaking populations in Romania, Slovakia and Serbia.  And our hosts here in the Vorarlberg region of Austria tell us it has more in common linguistically and culturally with Switzerland and Southern Germany than Vienna.

Europe’s cultural and linguistic map is vastly more complex than the political map we know today.  Settled populations preserve cultural traditions and languages for centuries even though borders shift backwards and forwards through history.  Mission in today’s Europe needs to be careful it doesn’t forget that.


Day 11: Gluegate

The church our ECM colleagues David and Linda James attend meet on a Saturday evening.  So having gone there yesterday and then helped with the teabus (See Day 10) we took today as a complete day of rest.  After a bit of a lie in and a relaxed breakfast we went for a drive and a long walk round the Wörthersee, a beautiful lake in Southern Austria.


Austria, like many countries in today’s Europe, is seeing a rise in nationalism.  Back in  April and May Austria had a presidential election.  The voting system here allows an open first round but then reduces to just two candidates who go head-to-head.  All the moderate centrist parties took votes away from each other leaving just the radical left Green party candidate Alexander van der Bellen to contest the presidency with nationalist right wing candidate Norbert Hofer.

When the second round was held in May van de Bellen narrowly defeated Hofer once postal ballots had been counted.  However, the nationalists contested the result and the Constitutional Court found evidence of improper counting of postal ballots and ordered a repeat of the second round for early October.  Postal voting was already underway when some voters found they couldn’t seal their voting envelopes – it turned out there was a problem with the glue!  So the vote was suspended and rescheduled for December.  Unsurprisingly, the scandal is now being called “Gluegate”.

We have seen lots of evidence of the rise of nationalism during our trip.  Brexit and the US elections dominate the news agenda but other important elections are taking place in Europe during this time.  Take a moment to pray for peace in Europe at the start of this week.  Tomorrow we drive west to the other end of Austria.  More beautiful photos to follow we expect.



Day 10: Der Teebus

When we began planning our road trip the one date and location that was fixed was that we had to be in Villach (Austria) on Saturday October 15th to take part in the Teebus outreach.

For many years our ECM colleagues David and Linda James have worked with a team of Austrian young people from different churches in Villach to reach out to the city’s young people. Stationed in a square in the centre of the town on a weekend evening once a month or so, the teebus provides free coffee and cake and a place to chat about life and questions about faith.  Around 25 came through during the evening, a lower number than usual due to another event in the town leaving the centre quieter than it often is.

We joined in as much as we could (with our very limited German): handing out invitations on the streets, praying and chatting on the bus.  We finished at around 12.30am.  Sunday will be a rest day for us, giving us the chance to walk through some beautiful Austrian scenery and worship God for the wonder of his creation.


Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑