Star Rating: ***
Pages: 198 (paperback version)
First published in 2014 by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd
If you are after a comic recap about a road-trip style holiday around Europe in an old campervan ‘Gullible’s Troubles’ is a book for you.
Suzi and Bill are an Australian couple with a desire to see certain parts of the UK, France and Italy. With family members already living in various locations around England and Wales they decide to incorporate their reunions with a personal trip of discovery.
As ‘SKINS’, a couple determined to ‘spend the kid’s inheritance’ they spend their days planning what they would like to see and how they are going to afford it.
‘”I’ve often thought it’d be nice to drive through France and Italy
– romantic villages, castles, great wine and food”‘ (page 11)
With this in mind, as soon as they land in England their search for the ideal campervan begins in earnest. Many are not quite as the description in the paper conveys and they end up initially feeling disappointed with the offerings – that is until they stumble across what they believe is an honest Pig Farmer selling a campervan on behalf of his wife who has only used the vehicle to transport the grandchildren around during school holidays. Considering it a bargain the van is purchased and christened, Morrison.
During this stage of their trip, they travel the country visiting family and friends, including a rather sick friend in Lancaster. They spend time exploring the history of the country and end up in some bizarre museums including one on herring fishing, enjoy the wealth of local country-style pubs and wander around towns in search of odds and sods to kit out Morrison for their impeding journey.
After a few weeks of British exploration, spending time with Bill’s brother and Suzi’s mum they embark of the first stage of their planned trip to mainland Europe. Heading down to Dover, testing Morrison as they go, they find a campsite for the evening although are slightly disappointed by their surroundings. Unable to find the centre of town, even though the directions from locals seem straight-forward enough they settle for an evening of red wine and cuppa soups and feel optimist that tomorrow morning they will be able to have a sumptuous breakfast as soon as the boat docks in France.
Before planning their adventures, Suzi had managed to find some, albeit old, guidebooks in local charity shops and one in particular mentioned a French initiative ‘France Passion’. A group of French Farmers have come together, creating an opportunities for campers to stay in their grounds free of charge in the hope that they can promote their products enough so that the intrepid travellers purchase supplies directly from them for the next part of their trip. During this particular leg of their trip Suzi and Bill decide to take full advantage of these, staying with cheese, olive, wine and even snail producers.
During this leg of their trip they spend hours exploring local villages and towns famous for their architecture. One of their favourite stops turns out to be in Laons, one they hadn’t necessarily expected to enjoy, potentially using it only as a pass-through, but after seeing “the town of Laons atop a large cliff-like plateau…decide to stop there for the night” (pg 53).
In-between these free sites they also opt to take advantage of sites with more facilities, namly WiFi and a bar. One recommended in one of Suzi’s “posh camping books” near Charlons-sur-Saône turns out to be extremely good especially as a bottle of perfectly good drinking wine costs a mere €4.50.
France is also where they hit their first major hurdle – namely gas! The lack of gas is a minor disaster for these two – not because it affects the way they can cook but more importantly it stops the fridge from working – the all important vessel for keeping their wine cold. When they fitted the gas bottles in the UK they didn’t realise at the time that. should they need to change it, the fittings vary considerably in the rest of Europe. As their journey continues this becomes the one thing that really does not go to plan for the couple, spending hours and detouring miles in the hope of being able to find something suitable.
After spending a couple of weeks touring around areas of France, visiting castles, monuments, fountains and markets many of which were mentioned in one of their guidebooks, and drinking copious amounts of wine, beer and Pastis, the decision is made that it is time to head into Italy – they have a particular desire to travel around Sicily.
After spending their first night in Ventimiglia and finding wine in the local supermarket with a price tag of just €2 per bottle they head down towards Genova for their crossing over to Sicily.
The reason for Sicily? Not only is it full of interesting landscapes and beautiful ruins it is also home to the active volcanoes of Etna and Stromboli – sights that Bill in particular wants to explore.
First stop on their Sicilian tour is the capital city of Palermo with its abundance of traffic and rubbish. Navigating the streets in a hope of finding the campsite they have earmarked seems to be an impossible task, the borrowed sat nav, they have lovingly named James, fails epically and after asking for directions and having to do a 30-point turn in the middle of the road they finally arrive at their desired campsite in Isola della Femmina.
Navigating the capital without Morrison is not any easier. They are advised to take the 101 bus into the city but are warned that there is a big issue with pickpockets and timetables can be unreliable but in some respects this does lead to more funny adventures that often result in them stumbling upon more local watering holes resulting in yet another cooling beer.
Before reaching the erupting sights of the volcanoes Suzi and Bill visit several Greek Temples including Agrigento, the most complete Greek Temple outside of Greece and try to find the house of Inspector Montalbano a character based on the detective novels by Andrea Camilleri. Ultimately though, Etna and Stromboli are calling and so visits to both are required and instead of doing self-guided tours, on this occasion, they opt for days with a tour guide and a 4WD that result in a hike up the side of a steaming volcano and a boat ride out to see the exploding Stromboli.
Finally, if you think that is it for this adventurous couple, think again, their journey home is no less eventful. With breakdowns, frustrated French mechanics and the untimely death of Morrison nothing seems to be going to plan.
Final Thoughts on Suzi Tooke’s Book
If you are after an easy-reading book about the misadventures of someone else whilst travelling this is a book to consider. Spilt into short chapters, allowing the pace of the story to reflect the tempo of their trip, Suzi Tooke has recreated her escapade for others to enjoy, perhaps whilst they too are on their own voyage of discovery somewhere in the world.
“So endeth the European sojourn. And what fun it has been!” (page 192)
Disclaimer: We did receive a free copy of ‘Gullible’s Troubles’ from Austin Macauley Publishers in return for an honest review. All words and thoughts in this review are entirely our own.