Tolls and fuel make Europe pretty pricey

When did motorcycle touring get so horribly expensive? My wife and I just returned from a truly enjoyable 3,750-mile trip that took in England, Scotland, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Italy – and I have no idea how much it cost. That’s not because I haven’t kept all the receipts (I have) but because I’m too scared! I don’t want to know.

Take petrol. The Valkyrie was returning a reasonable 43 mpg average on the England-Scotland leg, but probably dropped to the high 30s on the autobahns and autostradas. I started out paying £1.17 per litre, which seemed okay. But forking out £1.36 at a motorway service area made me wince – that’s a massive mark-up with which to sting the captive customer base on a motorway: I mean, where else can drivers or riders go?

That all paled into insignificance in Northern Italy when we were charged a cent short of €2 per litre, again on an autostrada with no other option. Given that the Continental Europeans seem to regard the pound/euro exchange rate as almost at parity, that price really hurt. It’s probably the most I’ve ever paid for petrol, anywhere.

The recent weakness of the pound was amply demonstrated when I tried to use my UK debit card to withdraw 200 euro from an ATM in Germany and the bank concerned tried to charge me £206 for the privilege! There was an option to let the banking system sort it out instead, so I went for that.

Then there’s motorway tolls. It was only last year that we rode the Valk to Rome and I don’t recall needing a second mortgage to cover the toll costs. This year we were under a degree of self-imposed time pressure, so we stuck to the autostrada and autoroute for the entire trip back from Florence to London, instead of choosing the backroads. The toll from Florence to Aosta was a staggering €55, the Mont Blanc Tunnel charged us €29, and the journey to Calais siphoned off God knows how much more.

Campsites and hotels have suddenly become expensive too. This trip was in late September, which is well and truly “out of season”, but the normally budget-priced Premier Inn charged us £100 for a night in Scarborough; the three-star hotel in Aosta cost €94 including breakfast; and even the campsite near Reims wanted €30, despite being almost empty and the bar and restaurant being closed for the winter.

The one ray of light in all this was the Airbnb my wife booked in Oberau in the Austrian Tyrol. We’d planned on camping if the weather was right, but it was only 6 or 7 degrees C and raining, so Peter got out her mobile and found us a ski lodge for just €30 a night. It came complete with king-size bed, en-suite shower room, kitchen and living and dining area – all for the same price as a patch of grass in France!

We had a thoroughly enjoyable trip, and I know that it could have been a lot cheaper if we’d camped every night and avoided the motorways. That would also cut about 30 or even 40 cents a litre from the fuel price, which would have helped a lot too. The current sterling/euro exchange rate didn’t help, either, and hopefully that too will return to a more normal rate once the Brexit jitters have settled down.

Oh – and a final gripe (well, almost final – I’m sure I have a few more tucked away somewhere): What on earth is Eurotunnel doing? I’ve used the service pretty much since its inception, and am a great fan. I even thought the fares at about £40-odd each way were reasonable. I changed our outward trip by 24 hours to spend more time with daughter Charlotte and our grandchildren in London, and that cost only £4.

However, we made such good time on our return from Tuscany that we arrived at Calais a day early and decided to head straight home. Ah no! You can’t do that! Well, not without paying an incremental £43! They tolerate someone arriving an hour or two early or late, but not a whole day. I’m sure it’s in the Ts and Cs, somewhere. Of course, we paid up, and, of course, the train wasn’t full. So that was £43 pure profit, greedy profit, exploitative profit, for Eurotunnel.

I have just given in to temptation and finally totted up the cost of this trip. I couldn’t help myself! It came to a  fraction under £2,500, including our share of a fabulous villa we rented for a family week in Tuscany. Not a fortune, perhaps, but it feels like a lot more than we’ve ever spent on a European bike trip before. Next year we’ll stay off the motorways, go earlier so we can camp more, and see if we can save a chunk of money.

 

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