Riding the Grey Wave – a September vacation in Western Europe

As you may have noticed, I’ve been absent for a few weeks. And I have a very good excuse – I’ve been on an adventure! Amazingly, even someone like me, who has been literally all around the world, can still find adventure in Western Europe, not too far from home, even when on vacation with the family. You probably wonder “what was he doing”? Well, I was surfing. Not the ocean waves, not even Couchsurfing – no, I was riding the biggest wave of the Old Continent –  the Great Grey Wave.

The Grey Wave surges in September, when schools start. The Dutch, Belgian, German, English and French retirees all wait for that magical moment when the families with children are already gone but weather is still fair. Then, they take over the highways, in their seasonal southwards migration. The resorts, camping’s, hotels and tourist attractions of Europe are suddenly flash-flooded by an enormous maelstrom of Europe’s elderly. Its a magnificent sight – something like the migration of Gnu in the Serengeti, just slower. And since I am not bound by the school calendar yet, I was biding my time the entire summer, waiting for the right moment to jump on the Grey Wave. To top things off, I was doing it entirely in style – I was driving a camper van. Yes, me, the great adventurer and explorer was plodding the roads in one of those dreaded vehicles, loaded to the brackets with peanut butter, toy dinosaurs, diapers, strollers, bicycles, oat flakes and even a complementary mother-in-law.

Our original plan was more daring. Corsica was supposed to be the destination, but without direct flights and with pricey, lengthy layovers as a lousy alternative, we had to rethink the plan. “How about a camper van?”, the wife said. And I actually found it a good idea. We’d have the freedom of movement to follow the good weather, won’t have to pack and repack every time we move and will be able to take everything we want with us (like those oat flakes and toy dinosaurs). Plus, the rental costs in September were almost half what they are in the high season, so it was quite affordable.

I’ll say it outright – it was the right decision. Boy, what an adventure it was! We’ve been to 4 countries in 3 weeks, adapting ourselves to the leisurely pace and travel style of the Grey Wave particles, considerably lowering the average age at every camping we’ve pulled in to (not too difficult – the average September traveller in Europe is about 85 years old). I am writing these lines in Beaune (or, was writing – I’m back home by now, typing out my notes), the capital of Bourgundy wines, with a cigar in one hand and an unbreakable plastic camper-compatible glass of Côtes du Rhône red next to me. The sun is setting behind the vineyard-covered hills that surround me, and I have in my head the words of a real corny song that describe quite correctly how I feel – It’s 72 degrees, Zero chance of rain, It’s been a perfect day. OK, almost perfect day – I should have bought that bottle of Armagnac. Well, we live and learn.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be posting my experiences and reflections from the ride on the Grey Wave – stay tuned! In the meantime, you can try and guess which countries we’ve been to based on the photos below.

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