Car park tourists

Our first night in Slovenia, we awaken to 2 ladies having a jovial, yet ear drum-shattering discussion whilst violently sweeping the car park we have chosen to reside in with meticulous accuracy. With their large wicker brooms and tiny, tiny dustpans. It’s not an efficient selection of tools, but crikey do they know how to use them. Luckily, they have chosen to pay particular attention to the 4cm radius of our van. We cower inside like naughty school girls, squeaking, stifling laughter. You have never seen a car park so beautiful. There is not a speck. Hard to believe this is a job that not one, but two people are being paid for. This is a new aspect to the car park experience to which we have grown accustomed.

But aside the laughter, I’ve been thinking about territory, boundaries, possessions. Unless we are basking the glorious luxury of a campsite, there is always the lingering feeling we are trespassing, taking, borrowing; borrowing space, borrowing toilet facilities, borrowing electricity, borrowing wifi, taking water, constantly asking for things, asking people to speak your language… because when you live in your van, what is yours? Where do you belong? You can go almost anywhere, but there are plenty of places you don’t feel right, welcome. There is a juxtaposition between this feeling of constantly taking, not feeling quite right anywhere, not feeling clean enough or proper enough, and yet also the feeling of absolute decadence, the luxury in going wherever you choose, whenever you choose. What makes me deserving of all this?

Amongst all this I’m constantly thinking about home, worrying I’m cutting myself off from my friends, cutting myself off from the reality of the turmoil in my country, particularly after the referendum. Every day I am reading more terrifying things. Worrying, wondering what I’ll come back to. Worrying I’m being drawn into the circus created by the media. Is this pantomime real? There are people in my home country feeling completely unstable, unwelcome, uncomfortable, scared as the result of the referendum and the prevailing pandemonium laying in its wake. It sounds hopeless and I’m not doing anything. In fact I’m doing worse than nothing, I’m watching it happen from afar, getting riled up and then galavanting around Europe like nothing happened… because while I’m travelling, nothing seems to matter but the here and now. Which car park am I sleeping in tonight?

“Oh look, this one has 6 different recycling bins- it’s even got compost!!!” I shouted gleefully the other night, as we pulled into our chosen resting place for the evening

Car park win.

Other wins include: a free parking space (we are willing to sit and wait until payment window lapses to force our own designated freebie), a tap with drinking water, a discreet enough place in which you can squeeze a wee out (mostly panicked, lasting no more than ten seconds before someone comes around the corner/ peers around the tree/ spies you in a bush), or the absolute ultimate decadence, the holy grail: a nearby toilet.

Once, there was even a shower. Can you imagine? Not in my wildest dreams. Granted, it was an open air shower in the centre of a park with absolutely no privacy. Unfortunately, having foolishly left my showering time until the morning, I ended up having a 7am wash in front of about 100 market vendors setting up their stalls for the weekly market which would obviously fall on the day we had chosen to inhabit the area. Ah, perfect. Exhibitionist shower. My favourite.

There have been significant car park losses as well. In fact, to describe this particular instance as a mere loss is to do it a disservice. To be specific, there are the dogging car parks. Who knew this deserted marshland paradise next to the sea, surrounded by beautiful mountains would turn into a filth fun park after the sun went down. Initially it was hilarious, watching men drive around every inch of the outer periphery of the car park, just to peer creepily into our van. Each car driving so close, they could have chipped off the paintwork; leaning so far out of his window to stare, he might have been dragged out of the window of his car and under his own wheels à la Brian Harvey (much as I hate to drive traffic in the direction of the Telegraph, this bizarre story is worth it). It became less funny as the car park filled up; I struggled to shake the imagery of the Channel 4 documentary “Doggers”, scattered memories of the content was making me feel pretty uneasy. Then the police turned up. Guilt by association, no thank you. We vacated, with another car hot on our heals. For a minute, I thought we were now part of a car chase, but after a few corners we shook them off and then found somewhere else to sleep for the night.
At times I have found myself absolutely elated at the sight of any one of the aforementioned luxuries. Almost too elated. You don’t know longing until you find yourself going through life without a guaranteed toilet. Or worse, once you find one, the cruel, painful, realisation that it is a pay toilet and you have no change (also, beware toilet sexism- €0.50 to use a cubicle, free for urinal).  Of course, all of these elements come secondary to the primary objective: the car park with a view. Still, arriving in a car park with a view and with any one of the luxury elements and suddenly I’m dismissing the excitement of the former, to honour my preoccupation with the latter.

Is this really travelling, or just an expensive grandiose tour of the car parks of Western Europe?