The Adventure of a Life Time...

by Michael Satterfield

I never took the time to write this story down, so now that I am getting an itch for adventure again I figured I would recount my last great motoring adventure. It involved several countries, my cousin, and a Peugeot. This was before good digital cameras, so excuse the scans of 35mm prints.

Somewhere in Spain with the Peugeot 206
A few years back I got tired of the rat race, every day of being a drone in an office and while I loved the job and the industry, I needed some time off. I was making good money working as the Special Projects Director for a large restoration parts company here in Southern California. However, after four years it was time for a monumental vacation. So, I quit my job, said my goodbyes, and set off for Europe. With little more than a rough plan, a roadmap, and a hastily arranged short-term lease with Peugeot’s “Open Europe” program, I landed in London to meet my younger cousin Nathan that had recently finished an exchange student program and was not excited about coming home right away.

Tower Bridge, London

London is an amazing city so much history, from the Romans to the Second World War every corner of London offers a glimpse of times lost, while the ultra-modern buildings like the Gherkin give a foretaste of things to come. Coming from the Los Angeles area where everything is rebuilt about every 20 years it was interesting to see the old buildings of London still pockmarked from the German bombs. I could go on and on about the British Library, Tower of London, etc… but this is a story about motoring so back to that. We had decided to pick up our sparkling new Peugeot 206sw in Montpellier, in the south of France.

Big Ben, London
This was a very good idea as there is nowhere on earth I could imagine being more beautiful than the French Riviera…Italy would prove me wrong. Landing in France, we get the typical customs hold-ups and make a phone call to the Peugeot Open Europe contact that was meeting us with the car. A very polite young man walked us to the car; I gave Nathan a very sinister look confirmed with the Peugeot representative that the lease included “unlimited mileage” he nodded yes, I think he knew that the resale on this car would be slightly dented by a number of miles we were going to put on the car. In Europe, I had discovered the average car only travels less than 8,000 kilometers a year that is just under 5,000 miles a year. In California, my home state we drive on average 15,000 miles a year, that over 24,000 kilometers. Nathan and I had laid out an ambitious route that would allow us to cover almost 18,000 kilometers in just 21 days, seeing everything Europe had to offer before running out of money and retreating back to London.

We were off since Nathan had been living in London already and had done a bit of traveling in Europe already I had him make our arrangements for the night. We had decided to head right to Barcelona, and when we got there, some street fair was going on, the street signs are mounted on the sides of the buildings and are not lit, the Peugeot is hardly able to move amongst all the revelers crowding the streets. The hotel has a strange Arabic sounding name but right now, I am wondering why the car feels splashy. I can tell…we have a flat, there is nowhere to park, we don’t speak Spanish, and we can’t even find this hotel. I see a parking garage and pull in. A very nice parking attendant points us to a location where we can park for 12 Euros for 24 hours, he even pulls a floor jack out and helps us change a tire. Nathan is attempting to find out where the hotel (it’s a hostel) is, and by the grace of God it was just a few blocks away, we left our car in the park and walked a few blocks following a map was drawn up by the parking attendant. As we made our way to the hostel, I started to notice the streets started to look worse and worse, and the hotel did not look much better. We checked in and we are shown to our “rooms”. “Nathan, where the hell did you find this place,” I said, “booked it online he replied, it looked nice” he replied. Our rooms were metal boxes stacked three high with a ladder, a curtain, a mattress (using that term lightly), and a small lockable box. “We are paying to go to prison,” I said to Nathan who laughed. I was convinced we would be killed, or at least robbed.

Taxi Speed by in Barcelona
Later on, that night Nathan sees a man peering into my box and tells him to take a hike. The next morning we discovered that Nathan’s alarm clock had stolen…we packed, went back to the car and dropped off our bags, and wondered around Barcelona. It is a painfully beautiful city, and I could not help to snap away, at this point in my life I was still an aspiring photographer. You can tell the photos that Nathan took with me in them because they are not in focus. We went to seek out an internet café, and a real café for some e-mail and breakfast, what was really amazing is the sheer amount of porn being sold out of special porn newsstands. I was done with Spain, while I am sure there is much to see and do, how good could it be from a country that builds the SEAT.

Cassis, France
Back on the road and in my adopted home country of France I feel much better, I understand more of the language, and the food is amazing and cheap. Coming from the U.S. I was honestly expecting the French people to attempt to kill me every chance they got since we only hear stories of the rude French. But I found them to be some of the most engaging, friendly, and patient people on earth. The secret is to at least attempt to communicate as best you can in French and be respectful that their language is a sense of pride for them, demanding that they speak English is rude and we saw plenty of American’s (mostly with fanny packs) getting upset at people at restaurants, hotels, and bars because they did not speak English. News flash you’re not in an English speaking country. As we passed through France on the way to Italy, I discovered my place. It is the place I would pick up and move to if given the opportunity in a heartbeat, taking the wife and dogs along with me. This place is Cassis in Southern France; I spent hours photographing it and cannot wait to return, before returning to behind the wheel of the Peugeot.

Sunrise in Nice, France
In Monaco I was in car lovers heaven, pulling up to a stoplight the car in front of me is a Zonda, next to me a vintage Ferrari, and behind me a Bentley Continental. I, however, was behind the wheel of a mighty Peugeot. Now I had owned a Peugeot 405 here in the US and loved the car, it was fast, clean, reliable, and one of the best handling front-wheel-drive cars I have ever owned. I had been dreaming of owning a 206 for a daily driver for years, and even looked into buying one in Mexico and bringing it to the US, however, the smog and safety Nazis will not allow a French car in the US…yet we can buy a Daewoo??? The car we picked out was a manual, gas-powered wagon, we figured we may not always be able to get a hotel so at least the station wagon would allow us to sleep in the car in our sleeping bags, we did do this a few nights, but we did it towards the end of the trip in the snow, not a good idea…. We passed into Italy and Nathan was super excited he had a long list of things we wanted to see from Pisa to Pompeii so we had a long drive ahead of us. We had made a deal that we would stay off the main roads, the car being a manual I had to drive the entire trip, but I did not mind much. I attempted while in Italy to teach Nathan stick shift driving, but it did not go well.

Pisa, Italy
We drove through Rome and having learned our lesson in Barcelona found a nice quiet village with a train station outside of the city parking was free and it only cost 2 Euros to ride the train into the city round trip. The advantage of having a car is you don’t have to carry your gear with you. Just take what you need and lock the rest up in the trunk. Words cannot describe the city of Rome unless you have seen it, you can’t even comprehend the scale of it all. Spending the entire day in Rome was amazing, but there was much more to see, we hopped a train and got back to the car, where we set off south towards Pisa to see the leaning tower then on to Pompeii. Italy is much like California many times while driving along the coast you could almost be driving along the Pacific Coast Highway, many similar plants, the only major difference is the buildings are a little older, and the food is slightly better.

When in Rome
The food is the best part of Europe they have the small café or street food down to an art, New York has hotdogs, L.A. as Tacos, but you can find amazing homemade treats any little town in Europe. Having driven down the coast of Italy as far south as Pompeii, we decided to take a road less traveled up the dead center of the country and head back towards France. The middle of Italy is much like the middle of America, farmland, ranches, open spaces, but unlike the Midwest of America, Italy’s interior is dramatic. Cities like Orvieto, Siena, Florence, and Turin are found here, and each has an amazing story and it’s own unique architecture and culture.

Pompeii, Italy

Gas stations in each country are different some have no attendants at all and have a strange gate system you have to use to get in, others are just closed on Sundays and good luck finding gas anywhere else, also it is very expensive, so if you are planning a European motoring getaway, bring lots and lots of extra cash. As we powered north towards Modena, I could feel the Ferrari’s calling me, and upon arriving I was not disappointed, they were everywhere, it was like being at the old Crystal Cove event in Malibu, but every day…there are also a lot of odd cars roaming the road, cars that make my classic MINI look like a massive SUV.

Florence, Itlay
Now there is a massive tunnel that connects Italy and France through the Alps, however, it costs a lot of money to go through so we decided that we would attack the alps head-on; in winter, in a Peugeot. The Italian side was cleared, but after turning a corner that took us to the French side of the mountain, we discovered that the French road workers did not feel like clearing the road from what we could tell, ever. We were firmly stuck, no chains, no cell phone, no village nearby…. But the Eagle Scout in me kicked in and I did have a small pocket knife and was able to cut some branches from a tree to stuff under the front wheels to get some traction. With Nathan pushing, I gunned it, only to get out, and hit the ice, the car did some interesting maneuvers and came to rest about 20 feet down the road. So after almost dying in the snow at the top of the Alps, we decided to take the tunnel.

Vespa in Milano, Italy
Back on our adopted home soil, we headed north towards Paris, Le Mans, and the invasion beaches. We first headed west towards Le Mans, and then on to Bayeux, where we went to see the Bayeux tapestry. From there we drove to the invasion beaches and took some time to reflect upon the sheer size of them, just how far it was to make it to any form of cover, our great-grandfather fought in the Pacific and Nathan and I both reflected on the bravery that those men had to step off those boats. After a visit to the American cemetery to pay our respects, we loaded up and set off for Paris. Having forgotten our lesson from Barcelona, we drove into Paris. Paris is everything they say it is and more, it is one of the worst cities on earth to drive. I have driven in some strange parts of the world Managua and Jakarta come to mind, and they were cakewalks when compared to Paris. Trust me; drive-in Paris only if you have a good GPS, good knowledge of written French, and very good reflexes.

We were running out of time, we had to have the car in Belgium within a week so we headed or Germany, the only country with speed limits posted for army tanks. Passing through the German wine country, I have never seen grapes grown on hills like this before, it was a breathtaking sight to see vineyards snaking their way on mountainsides, with small monorails that the farmers ride to collect their harvest. Pushing into Germany, we discovered that they really do like David Hasselhoff, and we were greeted by a massive billboard promoting a drink of some kind. We soon discovered a gun/liquor/fireworks store in a small town and that has to be the best store ever, and the fact that beer is sold in the soda machines made Germany one of our favorite countries.

Our little Peugeot was doing well as we cracked the 15,000-kilometer mark. We wanted to see the bridges from operation Market Garden so we went to the Netherlands, then pushed on to Belgium where we had to visit “Auto World” a massive museum that has just about every type of car you can imagine, as well as war museum that has items from Roman times to current. We found a nice little hotel and spent the night, I was exhaust having just driven just over 17,800 kilometers, we had done it, came to see it all in a whirlwind and we did it averaging over 800 kilometers a day (526 miles), some days we would drive well into the night and sleep in the car just to make sure we could get to the next stop on our map. If I were to go back I would do it differently spend more time relaxing, and less time driving to every historically significant spot on the map, but I would not change one thing about this trip, because, we discovered so much fun.