Why I’m Not Converting Another Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Car Camper

I really loved my Citroen Xsara Picasso as a campervan, especially because you can pretty much do anything to kit it out, and not worry about wrecking it. In December, the famously unreliable French mechanical engineering let me down when the Picasso’s gearbox and engine broke so I had to give it to the scrap merchant for £20, and I bought a Rover 75 because it was cheap. Some plans I’d had for this summer for the Picasso were to put vents in the sides (by drilling holes in the non-petrol side) and to fix the storage situation.

I want to talk today about why I did my car camper conversion the way I did it, why I will probably not buy another Citroen Xsara Picasso to camperify (it was great for what I wanted but it does have a lot of limitations) and I also want to go through some of the considerations you need to think about whilst planning your camper conversion.

When I bought the Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert back in 2014, nobody had done such a thing before and the only mentions of it on the internet were people joking about what a stupid idea it was. I feel proud that I started something that (it turns out) so many people are interested in doing, and I am glad that my posts about how I converted the Citroen Xsara Picasso and my review of the Picasso are helping other people achieve their dream of having a car camper. This did mean though that when I did mine, there was absolutely no information specific to the Citroen Xsara Picasso to give me any idea about how to go about converting it. I took inspiration and ideas mainly from Toyota Previa Delica Lucida conversions, obviously the Citroen Xsara Picasso is much smaller and there’s a limit on how much space 2 human beings (6’2″ and 5’6″ respectively) need. If you are 5’4″ or under, you can convert a Citroen Xsara Picasso and have acres of space because your clothes, shoes, sleeping area etc all take up less space. Even in the most practical Previa Delica Lucida conversion that I’d admired and used as guidance, the tallest occupant was 5’8″, so perhaps car camper conversion is a sport more suited to shortarses rather than longshanks.  We had great times in it, although in hindsight I think we would have had a better shot at a more complex conversion in a Previa Delica Lucida (a Toyota’s a Toyota).

The main stumbling block I came up against (I did everything myself) was we were just too tall for this vehicle to be our ideal camper conversion. Yes, you can fill the back of a Citroen Xsara Picasso with a wooden framed bed, a nice coloured fitted “kitchen” unit etc, but you won’t actually have enough headroom to use this stuff because human beings bend at the middle to sit up. I measured us. I need 83cm to be able to sit up in a vehicle, and my husband needed 91cm. Since my husband is 6 foot 2 inches tall, we needed that length to sleep in, so the Picasso was not long enough for us to add a kitchen unit at the back (so you can cook with the boot open) either. From a ventilation and safety point of view, there was absolutely no point in fitting a kitchen but again if you’re short or single you won’t have this problem, you can kitchen away.

Add to that, when you’re not actually camping (which is most of the time, unless you’re retired, in which case you probably aren’t going to convert a Picasso when you could drive one of those hulking great motorhomes at 20 miles an hour around the Derbyshire Dales), having a kitchen unit in a Picasso is generally stupid for most people. It adds weight and stops you from a) carrying people in your people carrier when you want to and b) using it as a van to transport large items.

The main thing I really loved about the Picasso was its sheer versatility. There was the time I gave a ride to three people with a sick cat they found on the street, who needed to get it to a vet’s across town. There was the time when my dad died 400 miles away and, because his sister has Narcissistic Personality Disorder and thought it was all about her, I had to clear his flat in the dark on a Bank Holiday (when all the van rental places were shut), and if I hadn’t had the Citroen Xsara Picasso I would not have been able to save my antique 1920s wardrobe (four foot wide, six foot long, two foot six inches deep) from my bedroom, the only thing my dad ever bought me; it would have been taken to landfill by the council instead (crammed it in on its side, filled it with mementos, photos etc that we salvaged). There were the (countless) times I needed to take garden waste to the tip, the time my husband decided to take 500 bricks off someone’s hands (thanks Freecycle), all the large pieces of wood we transported home for furniture projects, that all made the ability to have a completely empty loading area an absolute essential. To put it into perspective, last week we bought some new fence panels and had to walk home with them because the Rover 75 blatantly couldn’t fit them inside or on top. If we’d still had the Picasso, we could have either attached them to the roof with rope through the windows (put a big towel on your roof, nothing gets scratched) or crammed them into the back to get them home. If we’d put fixed furniture in the Picasso, its storage space and passenger capacity would have been more limited.

I’d like to add something about effort vs benefit because a lot of people lose sight of this when they’re spending 6 months to a year converting a vehicle (during which time they don’t go anywhere on holiday in it). Allowing for the possibility that there are people in the world small enough to fit in the vehicle afterwards, it still takes a lot of effort to build a bed/storage unit and a kitchen/storage unit because you have to custom size it all to the vehicle and it has to be safely attached somehow so you don’t kill everyone in the vehicle in a crash.  Unless you very specifically want that exact vehicle for many years to come, you are putting a lot of work into making custom camper furniture for a car that you probably won’t be cooking in very often, or storing camping equipment in, compared to the number of times you will drive it to work (in our case we had it for 15 months, August 2014 to November 2015, and used it for four different long-distance holidays, where we slept in it for more than two nights apiece. We would have used it for more trips but I was a bit preoccupied with my parents both dying last year). I decided that since we bought the Picasso as an experiment in the fusion between Bangernomics and Campernomics, and that it was only going to run to its next MOT, there was no point in going to that much expense, effort, and time, to do something to a vehicle that was going to be scrapped in a year. I did want to work out how to put air vents into it before I scrapped it, but I was very ill at the time, in and out of hospital, so that never happened (2015 was a shit year. But I did buy the plastic air vents from Homebase and find out how to do it, although there’s no schematics to confirm that I wouldn’t have drilled through a wire or something). I also wanted to put a roof rack on top, but when I tried to get one fitted on the day I had to clear my dad’s flat, Halfords kept me waiting for ages then said it was too late in the day and that I should come back tomorrow. The store was empty of customers the whole time. I got let down at a time when something terrible was happening, so I didn’t bother going back. I’ll spend my money elsewhere thanks.

Other important considerations are a) the law b) visibility c) weight distribution/fuel consumption and d) access to and from doors.
a) I have talked about international window tinting laws for driving around the world previously. They haven’t changed, and they do also apply to any obstructions to visibility. I drove my car camper to Rome and this year I’m going to drive (whatever vehicle I end up with by July) to Spain. For me, putting anything in the back of the Picasso that would affect visibility is a hard “no.” Additionally, there’s no point making a camper that sleeps more people than it seats with a seat belt. Where are these extra people going to come from? How are you all going to breathe?

b) Visibility. The positioning of those front driver pillars (and the fact that there’s two of them) is really stupid. The car looks lovely from the outside but from the inside? Really hard to see where you’re going. In the blazing sun in Italy, the reflection from the top of the dashboard made it virtually impossible to see out of the front window. The heat was over 40 degrees celsius and my car’s fans were blowing even hotter than the ambient air because my car was a scrapper. If I hadn’t been able to see clearly out of my back and side windows, I would have had an accident. That means the only place to put a fixed kitchen/storage unit would have been behind the driver’s seat (where I can’t see anyway) and it would have had to come no higher than the window for aforementioned legal reasons.

c)The petrol tank is on the driver’s side, then it goes under the vehicle on that same side. It takes 40 litres. If there’s a fixed heavy piece of furniture behind the driver, that’s another 10-30 kilograms of weight on the same side. An uneven load distribution, being driven around in the same place all the time, in addition to anyone or anything else you put in the car, is going to affect the car mechanically.

d) I wanted all the doors to be openable and to permit access to the vehicle. This meant I wasn’t limited about how/where I parked and there were two examples of this being invaluable: firstly, when I couldn’t stop vomiting on my first day in the Highlands in August 2015, I was *really* glad of this because I could just open the door, do my vomiting, close the door, without having to disturb my husband who was trying to get to sleep. Secondly, when we came across an unexpected nudist beach in Belgium, we were able to park the car and change into swimwear whilst avoiding getting our shoes in the back of the car by opening the door behind the driver seat.

Another thing to be aware of is cabin fever, especially on a long trip to Europe or further afield. You will want to be able to go to sleep with more than two inches between yourself and the person next to you.

I think when looking at converting a Citroen Xsara Picasso, or any other smaller vehicle, into a campervan, it’s important to keep perspective of the best possible function and use of the vehicle, rather than being able to go “ooh ooh look at me it looks like a real caravan inside I designed it to be popular on PINTEREST” (seriously, why do people do this) whilst compromising on the most important things in any vehicle you sleep in – bed length and comfort, privacy and safe air flow.

Things I didn’t like about the Citroen Xsara Picasso:
1. There’s nowhere to put a freaking drink on the driver’s side, and seemingly nowhere to attach a place to put a drink because every surface is curvy and “futuristic” (from the Picasso’s design vision in the late ’90s).

2. Ours was petrol. I liked the 1.6 litre engine, but I disliked the really tiny petrol tank that was NOT designed for long distance journeys, and I really disliked having nowhere (in the curvy futuristic exterior of the vehichle) to store a jerry can. Add to that, some countries don’t allow you to carry petrol but everywhere lets you take diesel. You don’t want to sleep in the vicinity of a petrol can (I’ve done this, it’s horrible) leaking fumes everywhere, so it has to go outside the vehicle, but there’s nowhere on the Picasso to put it. This means you’re forced to fill where you can, which means sometimes you’re pushing the car to the petrol pump, and always you have the knowledge that you didn’t get a good price on fuel.

3. The lights on the Picasso we had just never worked properly. By the time I scrapped it, one headlight would not even do a side light let alone anything else and the suspension was terrible. Yes, you can fix these things, but there’s only so many times you can get it “fixed” before you just want a different car.

4. The spare wheel being under the boot seems like a great idea but it reduces the ground clearance – which in general was not shockingly bad (not a lowrider) but wasn’t fantastic either.

5. The fans blowing air didn’t work at all and the temperature control didn’t work, so when the ambient temperature was hot, the car was hot, and when the ambient temperature was cold, the car was cold. You may remember cars of the 80’s often had this problem, and this might make you think “who cares?” but when it’s 40 degrees in Rome when you wake up and sub zero in the Alps when you go to sleep, it really is important to have some sort of controllable warm/cold air coming into the car.

6. The off road capabilities were less than impressive, the cruising speed was sub-par which especially pissed me off in Germany where I wanted to be going at over 90 mph and was stuck at 75, and the brakes were nowhere near as good as on the VW Golf.  Adding weight of a full-on camper conversion to make it look like a Citroen Romahome on the inside will ONLY make this worse.

I did a hell of a lot of research into a lot of different vehicles before I bought the Picasso, and it was the perfect car to get some experience of campering with.  If you’ve never converted a vehicle and you’re not tall and you don’t buy a £600 category-C write off, you’ll probably have many happy years in this.  As for me, I am hoping that this summer I can buy a Land Rover to convert, so I’ve got a vehicle that’s a) wide enough for actual luggage storage and b) has 4 wheel drive capacity for when we’re campervanning in the snow or end up off-road both of which happened in the Highlands and in Austria. I want to take it to the Sahara (amongst other places), after all, and a Picasso was never going to be appropriate for that.  I also like the fact the Landie has a flat roof with excellent potential for luggage storage.

Advertisements

How To Drive In Europe: The Basics

Ever wondered whether driving in Europe is different to driving at home? Are you planning a trip that will involve you driving in Europe? This article is an explanation of everything you need to know to drive safely in Europe (including the UK), broken down into key aspects so you can drive safely and confidently on your next European Road Trip.  This is very comprehensive but I’ve written it as concisely as possible from both my own experiences and research I’ve done to check current driving laws around Europe; I have this article saved to my computer to print out to take with me whenever I drive in Europe.  Feel free to do the same.

Contents:
Side of the Road,
Roundabouts,
Multi-Lane Roads,
Indicators and Overtaking,
Smoking in Vehicles,
Things You Need In Your Car,
Tolls and taxes,
Speed Limits,
Carrying Hazardous/Dangerous Items in Your Vehicle,
Further Reading.

 

Side of the road:

1. In Malta, Cyprus Ireland and the UK (excluding Gibraltar), you drive on the left.

2. Everywhere else you drive on the right.

Roundabouts:

Roundabouts are often used instead of traffic lights where roads intersect each other.

Where you drive on the left (in the UK etc):

Go around the roundabout in a clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the right hand side and ignore traffic on the left (unless it’s cutting you up in which case peep your horn at them to warn them of your presence). You can imagine most roundabouts as a complicated type of crossroads, and some of them have traffic lights on them as well. You indicate as you approach the roundabout to inform people that you are either not getting off the roundabout yet (indicate right, for right turns or straight ahead) or you indicate to inform people that you are getting off the roundabout at the very next exit (indicate left, for the very next left turn). If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane, people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout so always check mirrors and blind spot before changing direction unexpectedly and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Where you drive on the right (in France etc):

Go around the roundabout in an anti-clockwise manner. Always give way to oncoming traffic from the left hand side and ignore traffic on the right (unless they’re cutting you up in which case slow down). To indicate, do so whilst you are on the roundabout (or two or three cars away from joining it) and indicate left (staying on the roundabout) or right (getting off the roundabout), EXCEPT in Slovenia where you only indicate to show when you’re leaving the roundabout. If it’s busy and you are in the wrong lane be aware people will cut you up as you try to get off the roundabout, so check your mirrors and blind spot before changing lane unexpectedly, and position your car so other road users know you’re changing roundabout lanes before you pull out.

Multi-Lane Roads:

Where you drive on the left (UK, Ireland etc):

Stay in the left hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on a motorway (3 lanes or more) you may see big blue signs showing that the road is going to split into two new roads. When this is happening, pick the lane that follows the correct blue sign to where you are going. If in doubt, keeping right at a fork is usually to stay on the road you’re currently on. As soon as you are on the new road or as soon as you have passed the fork or new road split, return to the left hand lane if it’s safe to do so.

When overtaking, it’s good practice to pull back over to the left after you’ve overtaken, however, because other people don’t always do this, and because people don’t leave a sensible amount of space between themselves and the cars in front, it can sometimes be more efficient to stay in the right hand lane if you know you need to overtake again soon, because it can be very difficult to rejoin overtaking traffic once you’ve had to slow down. If you see a police car, pull into the left hand lane because it is now illegal to just drive in an overtaking lane (which is every lane apart from the left lane), although nothing’s changed in terms of how people drive because UK police don’t appear to be enforcing this OR the new law against tailgating.
In Ireland, there are a lot of elderly drivers but people seem to be more mellow and courteous on the road, so I always pull back to the left after overtaking although not everyone does. Ireland doesn’t seem to have the same horrific traffic congestion as the UK does, probably because people drive with courtesy and are more tolerant of mistakes (such as being in the wrong lane).

Where you drive on the right (France, Germany etc):

Stay in the right hand lane until you need to overtake someone. If you are on an Autoroute or Autobahn or Autostrada (freeway, motorway), the left hand lane is the overtaking lane. If you need to overtake someone, check your mirrors (especially in Germany where there’s no upper speed limits on some routes) and only pull out where there’s no-one approaching at speed – if someone’s passing you at 150 miles an hour and you’re pulling out at 60, it’s not going to end well for anyone. When you are done overtaking, pull back in, and remember to overtake EACH VEHICLE INDIVIDUALLY. In the UK people have a tendency to stay in the overtaking lane when they shouldn’t, because they can see another car ahead that they will want to overtake in a couple of minutes – in Europe, this can get you pulled over by the police, but not before a VW Kamper has tailgated you for a couple of miles flashing his lights at you to draw your attention to the fact that you’re in the wrong lane. Once you’re done overtaking, get out of the overtaking lane.

Near some European cities such as Florence (and Glasgow), there are now moments when you will either get corralled through the city on a motorway that avoids all the junctions, or you will be moved onto a motorway that HAS all the junctions. It is critically important here that you are aware a) how long you will be on a no-junction motorway and b) whether you will miss your exit. We didn’t understand the signs because the with-junctions motorway was signposted with suburbs of Florence (which should have been closer than our exit), and the without-junctions motorway was signposted with Milan, which was a VERY long way away compared to where our exit was. We were trying to get to Verona. We chose the Milan motorway, thinking the other was a ring road type system around Florence. Big mistake. We were shuttled 50km north of our starting point, all the time in slow moving traffic in 40 degree (Celsius) heat, with no air conditioning and a thick fog of petrol fumes surrounding us; we had realized as we passed the exit to the other motorway that we were on the wrong road. We then spent three hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling until we FINALLY reached the first exit off this road which was far, far beyond the exit we had needed. For the first forty minutes on the shuttle road, our road was directly alongside the road we should have taken, and there was no way to get to it. We had to turn around at the first exit 50km later, and then we had to sit through another two hours of traffic to get back to the place where we could turn around again to choose the correct road because it wasn’t reachable from the other side of the road. Many road signs in Italy make no sense and I would highly recommend you get a sat nav as well as a paper road map if you intend to drive in Italy (and don’t rely on the Google sat nav on your phone because a) you’ll wear your battery down by charging it and using it at the same time and b) it’s dependent on you getting a phone signal as well as a GPS one). The moral of the story here is to be aware of these shuttle roads (I don’t know if they have a fancy name) if you plan to drive anywhere in Europe.

Indicators and Overtaking:

In every European country, you must not overtake a school bus while it is stopped to let passengers on or off. In the former Eastern Bloc countries (such as Serbia) you may not overtake any buses that are stopped. Use your common sense – if the rest of the traffic has overtaken the bus, or if the bus is clearly stopped for a lunch break, it’s probably safe to overtake if you take care and do so slowly, so you don’t hit any pedestrians crossing in front of the bus.

On autoroutes/autobahns (motorways, freeways) some nationalities continue to indicate even after they’ve maneuvered, until they have pulled back into the right hand (non-overtaking) lane. This might seem strange to people who have driven in the UK where many high end cars (BMWs, Audis, Mercedes etc) don’t actually appear to be fitted with indicators since their drivers just pull out without warning. It is not compulsory to indicate with the expressive gusto of drivers from Luxembourg, but it is compulsory to use the correct indicators to inform other traffic that you are changing lane or turning.

On roundabouts in Slovenia, you do not indicate when entering a roundabout, you only indicate to show that you are leaving the roundabout.

Smoking in Vehicles:

It is now illegal to smoke in any vehicle where children are passengers in the UK.  It might be illegal to NOT smoke in any vehicle in Montenegro (joking; the UK one is true though).

Things you need in your car (by law):

Some things are needed everywhere in Europe, other things are needed only in one country. In general, the Eastern European countries require you to take more stuff than Western Europe. As far as enforcement goes, unless you get stopped by the police and your vehicle checked for some reason, you shouldn’t really have any problems, so if you’re a flexible good driver (as opposed to one who inflexibly follows every letter of the highway code regardless of situation) you will probably never need to prove these items are in your car.

The UK:

A spare wheel.

Most countries in Europe, including France, Germany, Austria, Spain and Scandinavia:

Warning triangle (always 2 in Spain, 2 in some other countries IF you’re towing a caravan)

Hi-Viz vest

First aid kit

Spare bulbs

A spare wheel

A bumper sticker showing which country you have driven from (eg. GB sticker) unless your registration plate states a country code on it.

Countries where it gets very cold and snowy, including Austria, Scandinavia and most of the former Eastern Bloc:

Your vehicle MUST be fitted with winter tyres, usually between October and March. Check each country’s requirement on the AA website before taking your vehicle.

Countries where it is very hot:

In Spain, most window tinting is illegal.

In most hot countries you are not allowed to carry spare petrol, but you are generally allowed to carry diesel.

Former Soviet-Bloc countries (Czech, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Romania, Former Yugoslavia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Estonia, Albania, Moldova, Montenegro, but not Greece):

These are the countries which will often check at the border whether your car has all the correct items, so if you’re travelling to or through any of the former USSR countries, you need to tick all the boxes because they still have a culture of bureaucracy at border checkpoints.

Spare bulbs,

Spare wheel (this must be the same size as the wheels fitted to the vehicle),

First Aid Kit,

Reflective Jacket,

Tow rope and tow bar (or loop e.g. on the Citroen Xsara Picasso),

Warning triangle (two if towing something),

Winter Tyres between November and April (with a minimum tread of 4mm, or 6mm in Ukraine),

Additionally, in all of the former Soviet Bloc countries, you must get the border control officer to certify in writing any damage to your car (dents and scrapes etc) before you enter the country, otherwise you may have serious problems when you try to leave. This is to prevent people from having accidents in these countries then fleeing without prosecution.

It is NOT compulsory to adjust your headlights from a left hand drive to right hand drive country (or vice versa) the laws all state that you must not DAZZLE oncoming traffic. Often this means a headlight adjustment but the law is clear it’s the dazzling that’s the problem, so dip your headlights enough and you will actually probably do a better job at not dazzling traffic than those people who incorrectly use the headlight adjustment stickers.

Tolls and Taxes:

Tolls:

Most freeway type roads (autostrada, autoroute etc) charge a toll.  The exceptions are Germany’s autobahns, which are currently free, and the countries which require you to pay road tax or a vignette.  Tolls in Italy are generally fairly reasonable (usually under E5 every 50-100 miles-ish) and tolls in France are utterly arbitrary (we paid E16 to drive 25 miles at one point and E3 to drive another 40 miles).  This is where buying a roadmap comes in handy – the one I had detailed which roads were toll and which were not, along with the location of the toll booths, so we knew which roads to avoid in France after getting robbed by a toll booth.  The map doesn’t tell you how much the tolls are, but most toll motorways have a non-toll smaller road running next to it which will take you longer, but won’t cost as much in tolls (whether this increases your fuel consumption is another matter).

On trying to enter Eastern European countries, I’ve heard of some drivers being charged a car washing fine for an official to throw a bucket of water over their car because it was too dirty to continue.  This was apparently in Slovenia, although it is definitely illegal to drive an unwashed car in Romania so budget for a car wash every so often.  Then you won’t get charged a E150 fee to enter any of these countries.

Car Tax or Vignettes:

The countries which charge longer term for you to use their roads are:

Austria (the road from Italy to Innsbruck still costs E9 on top of the vignette) which requires a relatively cheap vignette (pronounced vin-yet) which you can buy at petrol stations approaching the Austrian border (say: “eine vignette fur Osterreich bitte” to the clerk then how long you want it for.  “Funfzig tage” is fifteen days and “dreizig tage” gets you thirty days, sorry about my spelling for any native speakers).

Switzerland requires a vignette that in 2016 costs 40CHF (one Swiss Franc is usually worth roughly the same as the Canadian dollar on the exchange rate) and runs from 1st January to 31st December.  If you are travelling during January or December you might get ripped off.  They don’t do smaller units of tax in Switzerland.  According to the Swiss government website, non-EU citizens can buy Swiss road tax online here although I’d get it when approaching the Swiss border to be sure it arrives (and because that exchange rate on that website is very badly messed up).

The UK has a very complicated vehicle taxation and roadworthiness system that I’m not going to go into, because if you’re only there for less than 28 days you can ignore it completely and if you’re there for longer you can consult the British DVLA.

Speed Limits:

Speed limits are signposted very clearly everywhere in Europe, it’s really easy to follow the speed limit and we found there was a way to change the mileometer on the Picasso so it showed the speed in kph.  Germany has very clear speed limits except on the Autobahn, where there is no upper speed limit, only a suggested speed limit in adverse weather conditions.  This teaches you to look at the state of the road, the congestion, the road surface (e.g. is it icy, wet or dry) and use your own judgement.  If you lack this judgement, or if you’re a new driver, stick to 70-80 miles per hour and you’ll generally not be out of place amongst the traffic.  Remember, it’s illegal to take a slow moving vehicle on a motorway or freeway in most European countries so you MUST make an effort to keep up with the slowest moving flow of traffic on the road.

Carrying hazardous/dangerous items such as weapons in your vehicle:

Check the individual country’s requirement as it ranges from 100% legal to hold it whilst driving (swords in Poland) to 99.9% illegal to have it in the car (guns in Britain).  Each country has it’s own definition of what is hazardous or dangerous, just to complicate matters even more.

Further Reading

You may also want to check out these other articles I’ve written to help you drive in Europe and beyond:
Buying petrol in Europe
International Window Tinting Laws Around the World
Travel Money Guide a helpful article explaining how to access your money and what sort of money to take when travelling in Europe, including answering questions about working in Europe, using credit cards and ATM machines. Essential reading if you’re planning a European road trip or driving in Europe.

Coming soon:  Driving with your pets in Europe, and pet-transport laws.

In Pictures: The York Floods 2015, Sunday 27th December

I went around the town on Sunday 27th December (yeah it took me FOREVER to upload these to WP) and just took some photos of the damage and of the things I saw. We even saw some looters trying to get into some abandoned vehicles, but they ran away when they saw me taking photos of nearby things with a professional looking camera (pro-tip – don’t photograph the looters if they’ve noticed you; they’ll probably take your professional looking camera then resume looting).  Click all of these to enlarge if you want to see them up close.

York flood 2015 cars underwater
Your typical flood photo of some decent cars submerged in water.
York flood 2015 recycling bins underwater
Nobody will be recycling their glass bottles for a while – unless they can throw them really far.
York flood 2015 Melrosegate road underwater sewer bubbling up water.
This was around the corner from my house – the water here has flooded even worse than it would have done from the stream, because the sewers are overwhelmed and it’s bubbling up (front centre).
York 2015 floods lols stupid flood people salt bags ASDA.
This is hilarious – apparently nobody told the manager of this ASDA store (Wal-Mart) that salt will dissolve when it is mixed with an excess of water. He would have been better off using bags of gravel.
York floods 2015 james st gypsy site caravans trailers washed away by floodwaters
But it’s hard to see the funny side when your home has literally been washed away. This is the gypsy site (trailer park for gypsies) which is usually crammed end to end with mobile homes (trailers).
York Floods 2015 December police line
A somewhat redundant sign urging people not to venture beyond this arbitrary line. I did hear that North Yorkshire Police ran out of “Road Closed” signs.
York floods 2015 car stranded water level rising december
Another stranded vehicle outside a car showroom. They moved the rest of their cars over the road. Guess this one was from the bargain bucket and deemed not worth saving. The silent tragedy of being an older, reliable motorcar is that you will be sacrificed at the first sign of trouble.
York floods 2015 drama ambulance lost roads closed
An ambulance races to hospital with a patient on-board. Trouble is, it’s heading straight for flooded roads, delaying lifesaving treatment.
York floods 2015 ambulance lost stranded danger death
The same ambulance, several minutes later, has turned around and is racing to find another route to the hospital – this is the REALLY long way round. It puts the siren on, but that’s not going to part the unrelenting water.
Nobody is going out for ice-cream today, as the island of safety surrounding Frankie and Benny's diminishes.
Nobody is going out for ice-cream today, as the island of safety surrounding Frankie and Benny’s diminishes.
York floods december 2015 foss islands road
This is Foss Islands Road, one of the main roads in York, usually gridlocked at this time of day, I don’t even think pedestrians could safely get across.
York flood december 2015 boat river rescue water mooring bridge foss islands road
To the left of the bridge, the River Rescue boat is listing because it’s been moored too tightly and cannot rise with the water levels. The bridge itself being pretty superfluous given that it currently crosses from one river to another. Given the amount of people who have been evacuated, you’d think they’d retrieve all the boats they could get so they could rescue people instead of leaving them to get damaged like this.
York flood december 2015 stupid driving road
There are a lot of vans and campervans on the road, and many people driving round and round looking for a way out of the city. I think some people have used the flood as an excuse to bug out rather than because they really need to risk life and limb making journeys on flooded roads. They’ve missed the fact that the rest of the county is underwater too. There is a lot of reckless driving going on today – like this converted campervan who is doing a U turn but doesn’t slow down enough, ending up in a car park then having to back it up.
York flood december 2015 stupid driving road campervan
Suitably stuck, now they have to back that “campervan” up like a Tonka Truck.

So some laughs, some drama, but most of all, I’m just very glad that my house isn’t flooded at the moment, and I hope to goodness it stays that way.  I think this has justified the expenditure on my 40mm prime (non-zoom) lens for my camera – it’s performance in low light is absolutely stunning – these pictures are actually a little brighter than my eyes were able to see these scenes, because it was going dark as we left the house. If I go out photographing again tomorrow, I need to try and overcome my fear of photographing people because I saw some fantastic human-interest scenes today such as a family pushing their salvaged possessions in a shopping trolley, and some others standing outside a supermarket in their pyjamas waiting for friends to meet them and take them to somewhere dry, and the aforementioned looters although I wasn’t going to snap them in a million years, they were paying too much attention to my camera (although I couldn’t have photographed people very well as I didn’t have my zoom lens with me because I didn’t want it to get wet since it’s bloody expensive – I took my standard kit lens but it was just shockingly crap in the light levels so it captured NOTHING).  I always worry that I’m imposing on others’ private emotional dramas by photographing them; I guess that’s why I’m not a “proper” journalist/photojournalist yet.

How I converted a Citroen Xsara Picasso into a Campervan

Travel Tuesday:  How I Converted A Citroen Xsara Picasso into A People Carrier Campervan Conversion

Today I want to talk about ROADHOUSE (my car camper)

Have you ever dreamed of owning a car that fits comfortably into a parking bay and STILL lets you sleep in it, stretched out, comfy and flat? That was the plan when I sold my £7500 Golf to buy a £600 Citroen Xsara Picasso (it was a category C write off, and had just been repaired when I bought it).

I reviewed the Citroen Xsara Picasso in a previous article, to tell you all of its good and bad points. In a future article, I’ll talk about WHY I swapped my VW Golf for a Picasso. Here I wanted to talk about how I converted the Picasso, and what we actually do when we’re on the road and we want to use our car as a camper.

There were some big problems I needed to overcome in order to “convert” my car. Here are the things I did, in order (click to go straight to that section or scroll to read the lot):

Took back seats out – NOTE this gets you an MoT advisory because it stops them checking rear seat belts, so put seats back in for your MoT.

Made window blocking panels.

Bought a memory foam mattress and stuffed it in.

Added a ceiling luggage storage.

Removed it again after Europe.

Scrapped window panels after Europe.

Put curtains in.

Added a shoe holder for storage.

Fitted the memory foam mattress.

Draped a blanket over the two front headrests.

Here we go then:

 

Took back seats out

 

– NOTE this gets you an MoT advisory because it stops them checking rear seat belts, so put seats back in for your MoT.

They were pretty easy to take out. They have a lever at the back, then you tilt the seat forward, and jiggle it with brute force and ignorance until it comes out. Swearing at it is optional. Why did I say easy? They were VERY easy when compared to a lot of other cars I’ve looked at, and they are designed to be removable so it wasn’t anything like trying to get the seat pad of the VW Golf out. My husband custom-built a storage unit in one of our spare bedrooms to keep the seats when we don’t want them in the car. This also makes the car more fuel efficient because they’re slightly heavy at around 15kg (which is the same weight as a cardboard fry box full of frozen McDonald’s fries).

 

Made window blocking panels.

I bought some silver coated insulating bubble wrap, at £7.99 a roll from Homebase. One window at a time, I held the insulation up against the car window and drew the shape of each window on separate areas of the bubble wrap, cutting each out before moving on to the next window. I was going to attach it with stickyback velcro, but when we set off for Europe I realised I’d left it behind, so I ended up using gaffer tape (duct tape, duck tape, same diff) and that was an okay fix although the condensation in the car caused the tape on the back window to unstick a lot and the stickiness of the tape damaged the panels so we couldn’t use the same ones again.

 

Bought a memory foam mattress and stuffed it in.

I bought mine off Ebay, I literally went for a 3 inch thick “memory foam” mattress. I had investigated a lot of options including cot mattresses, inflatables and roll mats, and decided this £17.99 memory foam mattress would be the cheapest. They had a two inch option at £14.99 as well but we thought that was sacrificing comfort. We just folded the lower end so that it would fit in the car, and after we got back from Europe we took it out of the car and put it on our bed to make it warm and cosy over winter. Update: We had to chuck it out after 15 months because it started to stink. It was still pretty cheap but I’m looking into other ways to do the same thing. To be honest you don’t really need it in summer even in the Highlands, but in the Alps, or in winter, something like this is essential.

 

Added a ceiling luggage storage.

I got some of that fabric that net curtains are made out of, and sewed it over some elastic at either end, then tied the elastic together and attached this to the handles above the rear doors. If there had been somewhere to attach it front centre this would have been a great storage idea, but as it happens it was mostly in the way and didn’t fit an awful lot in because it didn’t stay on the ceiling at all.

 

Removed it again after Europe.

I scrapped that idea for now, so storage is still an issue.

 

Scrapped window panels after Europe.

I decided that storing them in the car when you’re on a long journey is far too much hassle (you can’t legally have them in the windows when you’re driving which means you need to put them somewhere), so I looked at other options.

 

Put curtains in.

Basically I was SO squeamish about permanently damaging the car, because there were NO tutorials for how to put curtains into your car, so I used the thinnest drill bit available and drilled very thin holes into the plastic either side of the back windows, then screwed some eye hooks into the holes. I tied string to the eye hooks and sewed some curtains out of cheapass satin material that I had hanging around after I made a dress. I also used some nice ribbons as curtain ties to keep them out of the way as they tend to blow around the car if either of the front windows are open and you’re driving. I keep the bottoms of the curtains attached to the windows during sleep times by using the sticky back velcro that we forgot to take to Europe. It doesn’t stand up to a lot of force but if you open and close the velcro pieces carefully they’re a great solution to this problem.

how to put curtains into camper conversion

how to put curtains into camper conversion

 

Added a shoe holder for storing smaller items:

I dangled it down the back of the driver seat. It’s basically a fabric thing with loads of pockets, so we keep gloves, deodorant, binoculars etc in the little pockets, helping us to stay organised in a small space.

storage car campervan

(the Citroen Xsara Picasso car campervan tragically died due to a gearbox failure on a busy set of traffic lights – I was very ill at the time and had to force the car through the traffic lights so the damn engine seized up.  We are currently driving the hilariously inappropriate Rover 75, where I have installed the behind-the-seat storage just as it was in the Picasso, and the picture above is a photo of the back of the driver seat in the Rover 75).

Fitted the memory foam mattress

 

.

For Scotland, I had to change the shape of the mattress because we had to fit a kayak in there as well as our usual luggage. So I cut some of the length and width off the mattress so it also didn’t need to be folded at the foot end, giving us more foot room and making it more manoeuvrable if we needed it out of the way for any reason.

How to make a bed to convert a people carrier into a campervan camper car

How to make a bed to convert a people carrier into a campervan camper car

 

Draped a blanket over the two front headrests.

When we went to Europe we used one of those silver reflective panels in the front windscreen but it kept falling down and then people could see into the back of the car where I often needed to get dressed (I’m a chick. Sleeping in underwire gets uncomfortable after a couple of days. I also physically cannot sleep in socks). On our Scotland trip I realised that a fleece blanket or a microfibre towel does the job just fine. They can be easily removed when we want to pass through to the front of the vehicle or for when I’m driving so I still have full visibility.

This was when we were sleeping in it in Scotland.  That's an extra large microfibre towel from a camping shop.
This was when we were sleeping in it in Scotland. That’s an extra large microfibre towel from a camping shop.

Future plans for our camper:

1. Proper ceiling storage. I’m still not sure what to go for here, having exhausted every search term to try and find some inspiration, but once I work it out I’ll do an article on it.

2. Ventilation. I want to drill wall vents into the side of the car (on the non-petrol side) but since I drove the car through a wall on the petrol side a couple of months ago, I’m not sure if it still has the structural integrity to withstand more damage to the body.

3. Other storage. I need more storage solutions, although we fitted all our luggage and a kayak in with us when we went to Scotland a few weeks ago, it could still be better organized.

4. Rear window curtain – I was most recently using that silver sunshield gaffer taped to the back window because I haven’t made curtains for the rear yet.

Inside car camper van conversion roadhouse sleeping in vehicle wild camping campervan

You might also like:
International Window Tinting Laws for Cars Driving Around the World
Driving in Europe: The basics

Travel Tuesday: On the Trail of the Holy Grail: Doune Castle

This post is copyright to Invoke Delight.  If you are reading this at a site other than https://invokedelight.wordpress.com then you are reading stolen content that is taking my hard work and presenting it as their own so they get the amazing Google search rankings that I have worked very hard to optimize.  I am aware of two such incidences, the latest being today, both times involved my travel articles.  You should redirect now.

You may or may not have heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

They were a comedy ensemble who, from the late 1960s onwards, blazed a trail of innovative comedy that directly challenged society, television tropes, audience-assumptions, gender roles, and continually pushed the boundaries far beyond that which was deemed “appropriate” at the time they were making it.

Their original BBC series prompted three films, one “And Now for Something Completely Different” was a compilation of clips from their TV show.  “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was their first attempt at a feature film, and was more about challenging the traditional way in which medieval Britain was portrayed in modern media than it was about the actual story of the Holy Grail.  “The Life Of Brian” was their story about another bloke who lived in the same town as Jesus and who was not the messiah.  That one ruffled a few feathers at the Vatican and I believe a bishop had a televised argument with John Cleese about it on channel 4 (ready the popcorn and cups of tea, it’s over an hour long).

Life of Brian was filmed in Jordan, which is somewhere in Africa. I didn’t really have the budget, bodyguards or bulletproof car required to go to Jordan safely. Instead, I decided to go to Doune Castle in Scotland, where almost all of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.  Also we were in the area, and the road to the Highlands was closed due to heavy snow.

Doune Castle doubled up as the filming location for the following castles in Holy Grail: Camelot, Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax, and that French castle at the beginning. It was a private castle when they filmed, and the reason it was chosen was because The National Trust for Scotland (as Historic Scotland was known at the time) refused to allow Monty Python to use any of their castles to film (and they’d booked separate ones for each castle in the script) – but the National Trust for Scotland only informed them of this two weeks before they were due to start filming, so they had a last minute struggle to find a privately owned castle that was open enough to the public to actually film in there. Thankfully, Doune Castle fitted the bill perfectly. The castle, originally built in the 13th century, was in excellent preservation condition and had a lot of original features without any visibly different “restoration” (some restoration has been done but it’s surprisingly sensitive for a Victorian repair). It had enough rooms that were visibly different to one another that it could easily be used for the location of the several castles the script required.

We overnighted in the layby in front of the castle in our car camper, making this the first castle we spent the night at during our Scotland trip (before we reached the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel in Peebles), and I have never felt so secure sleeping in the car before.  It was nice to get a full night’s sleep without any disturbances from traffic or construction workers either, unlike the previous night.  We chose not to overnight in the castle car park as this would have been a) definitely trespassing and b) bad manners.  We might have been car gypsies, but we didn’t need to act uncivilised and go round taking advantage of poor defenceless car parks.  A bonus of using the layby was that it was on a public road so it was legal to park overnight in Scotland, and it meant we awoke with a beautiful view of the castle in the morning.  We left at 7am and drove to Stirling for an early breakfast at McDonald’s before coming back at 9am when the castle was open, because it makes good sense to not be in an obviously wildcamping car at the time of day when all the members of staff are arriving to start their day.  I feel very strongly that one must be careful when wildcamping in any vehicle or tent because if the law is abused, it will get taken away, as has happened on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is why we had to park and sleep over an hour away from Ben Lomond on our first night in Scotland.  Thanks to the asshats who took advantage, there’s now a bylaw that no vehicle can be occupied overnight (and no tents can be pitched) on that side of Loch Lomond, except in the one paid campsite, and the police drive round and check, and you can get fined and lose your vehicle.

I made a film of my visit to Doune Castle, which you can see here:

Take me to Youtube instead, I don’t want to watch an embedded version! (click if this is what you are thinking).

Sorry about the bad sound, I didn’t have a camera crew with me to re-record, it was all shot in one go on a mobile phone, and my video editing software is about as good as getting a panda to chew the ends of files and stick them back together with eucalyptus gum.  The best I could do was play a piccolo over it all afterwards.
I did have to reduce the resolution on this film because Youtube failed to upload it three times, after taking over 18 hours apiece, and I’ve been trying to upload it since Friday, which is unfortunate but I’m hoping it’s still watchable because I’ve been dying to show you all since I got back.

Have you been to Doune Castle?  What did you think of it?

Car Camper Review: The Citroen Xsara Picasso

Reviewed: The Citroen Xsara Picasso Camper Conversion

I saw three people walking their dogs in the park last week; there was a sturdy man with a labrador, a young lady with a Jack Russell and a mum with a sausage dog and a pushchair. It struck me how similar dogs and cars can be.

I bought a Citroen Xsara Picasso to convert into a campervan. It has probably never won any of those car industry awards. Words like sporty, hot hatchback, sexy, and muscle car, have probably never before occurred in the same sentence as Citroen Xsara Picasso.

Our trusty Citroen Xsara Picasso after we spent our first night in it, in central Germany.
Our trusty Citroen Xsara Picasso after we spent our first night in it, in central Germany.

Let’s face it: It’s a mum car. It’s a car for a busy mum to pile half a nurseryload of kids into, while they scream, fight with each other, eat things they really shouldn’t and generally spread their sticky contagion onto everything they touch. And some things they don’t.

The Citroen Xsara Picasso is not associated with adventure, excitement, road trips (except to see Nanna), or campervan conversions. Historically, that life prospect has always gone to the rather more upmarket middle class MPV people carriers – the seven seater Ford Galaxy, Seat Alhambra, and Volkswagen Sharan trinity, as well as the Delica, Previa, Lucida and Emina. As one step down from the stunningly expensive “VW Anything with the letter T in the name,” the adventure potential of seven seaters first became a phenomenon in Australia and New Zealand, where car camping is quite common and popular, and has since spread to Europe, as people carriers have now been around long enough to occupy a more reasonable price point than, say, ten years ago.

After much serious consideration of all the vehicles listed in the previous paragraph, and one that wasn’t (the Mazda Bongo/Ford Freda badge bouncer), I decided the ones within my price range were all crap, old, probably dangerous, possibly ex-taxis (due to the extreme mileage) and definitely not worth a second glance. I halved my budget and bought a Citroen Xsara Picasso for £695. Now all of my friends laugh at me when I visit them. But that’s fine because I’ve got an awesome car campervan and they don’t. They all wonder why I sold my VW Golf. They just don’t understand the economics of the shit car, a minefield I’m far more comfortable with than all that car finance nonsense that I had with the Golf.

The pedals and driving position are more like driving a Transit van than any car I’ve ever driven, this is added to by the gear stick and handbrake placing. The engine sounds van-like when you start it as well. The acceleration is poorer than the VW Golf, but if you over-rev and pull off the clutch quickly you can still outrun most things at the traffic lights. The clutch’s bite is quite high and it corners like a drunk sailor – I’ve never had to take a corner so slowly in any car ever. The top speed (as tested on the German Autobahn where there’s no upper limit) was 148kph (approximately 92 mph – I converted the speedo so I didn’t get any speeding tickets whilst abroad), after that, the vehicle starts to feel very out of control and I got the distinct impression that the metal panels would bend out of shape and parts might start flying off if I went any faster. Aside from that, the noise from the engine got ridiculously loud, which is usually a bad sign, so I slowed it down. A good motorway cruising speed in Europe was 126kph (78mph), and the car seemed to like to sit at this speed, so it’s certainly twice the acceleration and speed than most of the campervans I get stuck behind on the roads in the Peak District National Park when I go home to see my aunts. I would have preferred to take my VW Golf, whose statistical top speed was 136mph (about 250kph), as I’ve always wanted to go to the Nurburgring but there was no point in the Citroen Xsara Picasso. However, I sacrificed mechanical perfection for accommodation space which I still believe is a bit of a priority in a campervan. It’s just a shame that with all our motor vehicle technology, it still has to be a trade off.

I only put the simplest conversions in when we went to Europe – there was blackout blinds for the windows and a bed. No storage, no bathroom facilities and no kitchen.

I did the windows with silver insulating bubble wrap, which is £7.99 from Homebase or more expensive from other DIY places. I basically cut out the shape of each window and attached the window shades using gaffer tape. I’d bought velcro to do them better but didn’t get a chance to put it in before we left. The pros of this method was that it was cheap, easy, and the silver reflected the sun. The cons were that the gaffer tape made one or other shade fall off a window every night due to condensation, and the shades stopped adequate ventilation even when the windows were open. Since we returned from Europe, I’ve put real curtains into the ‘van instead.

I bought a cheap memory foam mattress topper from Ebay for £17.99 to put in the back to sleep on. It was cheaper and comfier than getting a bunch of roll mats, and was cheaper than a double air bed (and more convenient). My partner is 6 foot 2 inches so it certainly has sleeping leg room. I liked how cosy it was, but it did mean we had no storage, something I’m working on before I go to Morocco. I would say one of these mattresses on a wooden bed frame with underbed storage is the best plan.

We stored all our stuff by moving it onto the front seats at night. I’m still amazed that we didn’t get robbed since we usually camped in motorway service stations or the occasional German Parkplatz. Some of our stuff stayed in the back footwells, and towards the end of the trip it was hard to stretch out to sleep because we’d acquired stuff on our journey and storage was woefully inadequate. I’ve bought some shoe holders that I’m going to cut up to make back-of-seat storage for smaller items, and combining this with a storage-friendly bed frame will make our camper more suited for longer travel trips.

As an additional bonus, after being told by one garage that it was almost a write-off, allegedly needing more repairs than the sum of its car parts, our Citroen Xsara Picasso car camper recently passed its MoT (road safety test) which means it’s going to be able to go on exciting adventures for another entire year!! The moral of the story? Cheap cars are great. And never trust the first opinion if they tell you it’s going to cost over £1000 to fix your car. It actually cost us £250, which is less than we could buy another old banger for. Yay for campervan bangernomics!

Since passing its MoT, we took it to the Lake District to Scafell Pike to see whether it was also going to be any good as a day van for outdoor activities. With two rear seats removed, there was plenty of room for all our waterproofs, crampons, walking boots and gaiters to dry out while we drove home, and the rear hatchback style boot door was perfect to shelter us from the torrential rain as we undressed out of our outer layers when we got back from our abortive mountaineering. After giving up on Scafell Pike (the footpath was washed away, heavy mist was closing in on us, the map got wet through and disintegrated, the GPS signal was lost, and it was too rainy for me to get my phone out to take pictures) and turning around when we were halfway up, the Picasso gave us a nice space to warm up, dry out, and find a route to somewhere that served decent and cheap food, then it gently propelled us home again.

Even the car park was soggy.
Even the car park was soggy.  And that’s our road here, in the centre, middle distance.  It was also waterlogged.
It was raining so much that I couldn't get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!
It was raining so much that I couldn’t get my phone out to take pictures once we were out of the car!

As a side note, despite what all those “respect the mountain” websites say, you don’t need crampons and an ice axe to tackle Scafell Pike in February, you need galoshes or a snorkel and wetsuit.

If we’d done all that in a normal car, it would have still been drying out a week later, but the Citroen Xsara Picasso has enough room inside that it takes a lot of water to make it get damp, and when it does, it dries out easily if you drive round with the windows open. Even after an overnight sleep with two adults in the back it is relatively easy to de-mist, and the damp never seems to linger, unlike in my VW Golf, where the seatbelt used to get mouldy from the damp – and we only ever slept in it the once.

Remember those dogs I was talking about in the first paragraph? Our car was the mechanical equivalent of a sausage dog – smaller, easier to park but with wider cornering and less living space than a real campervan, and without the yappy bite or the hardcore acceleration of a higher performance car. But it did the job and it was cheap, and now we know what to work on before we go away again, and just how simple a campervan trip can be. Certainly if you only want a weekender, the Citroen Xsara Picasso is underrated and has a lot of potential, and I’d choose it over a tent in a heartbeat.  The only thing I’d change?  The annoying internal lights.  And a working CD player.  But we bought a boom box to workaround that.