Ah life on the open road... The joy and excitement of not having to play by societies rules... Will it be one hour or four hours before we happen upon another roadside service station and the inevitable ham & cheese sandwich from the fridge?... That absolute certainty that you'll be eating those poxy paprika crisps along with it... Will the admission charge to the next soulless service station toilets be 70c or will I hit the jackpot and only be charged 50c?... What insane amount of money will the French extort from us to pass through the next toll bridge?... Will the smell of farts ever leave the van?... Will I ever get sick of Mezzo Mix?... What a great way to live.
Here's a sample of the culinary joys I was subjected to on a daily basis and grew to love and loathe in varying measures while living out of a van with my friends as we travelled around some of Europe.
Ireland. Lunch time and we pointed the van out of Newbridge in the direction of Rosslare Harbour. Not wanting to ruin my dinner in a couple of hours I'd make do with a packet of Ripples and what would be my last bottle of Lucozade for nearly 2 and a half weeks. I followed this up with a pint of Guinness in Enniscorthy while watching a bit of football and a bag of cans at the last off-license before the harbour, all of which turned out to be bad ideas considering we didn't so much sail to France as jostle with the sea like two pissed 18 year old lads would outside a niteclub on a Saturday night, both as equally afraid to throw the first punch as they are to lose face in front of their girlfriends. Not a pleasant 18 hour crossing.
We hit the ground running wanting to make our first destination of Amsterdam in good time, of course this didn't happen, primarily due to the nation of Belgium just being one long drawn out traffic jam. We did manage to pull into some brand of a service station in France before this where I purchased the above combination of bread and potatoes whilst exhausting my full arsenal of the French language over the duration of the transaction. Not expecting a whole lot from either I got roughly what I expected. Bolognese crisps aren't going to be drawing you away from Cheese & Onion should they try to fob them off on us any time soon. The sandwich was never going to win any awards, it was my boundless optimism that the French are enjoying a better standard of garage snack to us that set me up for this minor disappointment.
A special mention needs to go out to the this gear, Mezzo Mix. Lucozade being my morning kick starter of choice for many years I often struggle when abroad to find a suitable alternative. I'd gotten numerous messages to try this orange flavoured cola, which is in abundant supply throughout Germany, and while expecting to be sickened by it I was more than drawn in to its subtle and endearingly flavoursome beauty. It got me out of many a minor hangover over the following weeks.
I can honestly say that my only culinary disappointment with the entirety of my time in Germany, and I'm sure my compadres would agree with me on this, is that there is severe hardship involved in locating a crisp that is not Paprika flavoured. This isn't a problem for the first or maybe second packet but by Jaysus they soon wear very thin on the taste buds. This sandwich was quite similar to it's French counterpart apart form the inclusion of Salami in place of the Jambon (that being 'Ham' and not the delicacy that it refers to in Ireland). The salad dressing was nice and spicy thanks to some red peppers and jalapeños but I did it no favours by letting it sit in a scorching hot van for a half an hour before consumption.
There's not a lot to say about this. Just a pastry with some bog standard tomato bolognese sauce in it and the obligatory large bag of Paprika's. Germany proceeded to hit me with the above scenarios (and some very similar variants) for the duration of our stay... Then we crossed back over the border into France...
About 5 minutes over the German/France border we stopped into the first garage we saw. Equal parts delighted with the varieties of crisps on display and pissed off with the only sandwich available to me I set about making the most of the situation...
By constructing this monstrosity.
At some point along the trip a bottle of hot sauce found its way into the belly of our 4 wheeled beast and I thought this would be the catalyst to make this utterly boring French cheese roll topped with Cheeseburger crisps (they tasted exactly like a Micky D's cheeseburger, decide for yourself if this is a good or bad thing) into something a little more exciting. I was wrong, it was a hardship that set me up not very nicely for the 6 hour drive to Paris. Bad Buzz.
Why break the habit? Last day and 15 minutes from Cherbourg and the ferry home we made our final stop off. While the lads set about buying enough bottles of wine to capsize the ferry I made a lonely venture around the massive supermarket hoping against all hope that I might see a sandwich that was more appealing than the previous weeks Ham & Cheese, clearly I didn't. I decided the only thing to make it interesting would be to consume it with Ham & Cheese flavour crisps, or in this case the nearest I could find to crisps being some kind of own brand snacks they called 'Monster Munch' that bore little physical or tastual resemblance to any Monster Munch I've eaten before. All in all I had hoped for more from the garages of Europe, but that's just the way it goes... Thankfully the food we had outside the van was worlds apart from this hardship, I'll tell you all about that very soon in Part 2...