Big, white Mercedes Sprinter, a bit over a decade old. I called her Hestia, after an ancient goddess of domesticity. For over a year she was the only place I could truly call home. I’d built her up from an old fleet vehicle that I found in Bristol and spent a summer converting and living inside her. She was the perfect companion to my last couple months in the rainy UK. Weekdays spent working in the city were balanced nicely with weekends in the Welsh countryside or mountains. With a bunch of friends, we did a lot of climbing in Snowdonia (Hestia was cheering us from the solid ground while we were hanging on Welsh volcanic rock) and we did epic trips to see my partner Natalia on the continent and explore the Alps together.
Hestia sheltered us while we slept by the Rhine near Basel, took us to cross glaciers in Chamonix, and was the best place to unwind after a whole day of multi pitching. It was a good feeling to be driving towards an adventure with your home right behind the driver’s seat.
Unfortunately, like all good adventures, this too had to come to an end. When a change in career found me heading to live in Berlin, I realized the vanlife was just not suited my path ahead and after a couple of weeks watching Hestia standing miserably and all abandoned on a German parking lot, I came to the heavy decision to find her another family. There are clearly many challenges to selling a British converted van in the middle of continental Europe. It certainly doesn’t help for starters that a steering wheel was on the wrong side. Realizing my best chance to find her a good home would be back in the UK, I started to plan one last adventure, before driving her home.
At the same time as all of this was going on, I was in the process of writing a music video for a band in Poland. The video production budget was virtually non-existent. However, I had all the creative freedom I wanted. And so was hatched a plan to celebrate Hestia and give her a major role in the video which we were about to shoot. With decisions already taken, things are easy to organize in Poland.
Within a couple of days and with full engagement from the music band, we found an actress, took care of all logistics, scenography, rentals, and food for three days for the whole crew.
Everything was ready to drive the van to this wild and remote southern part of Poland, called Bieszczady. We’re talking the middle of January here so it’s not exactly the most welcoming season in this part of the world. The drive was long, cold, and snowy. Coming down from Germany in a blizzard, I’m not sure exactly how we found our way into Krakow where we were meeting the band (and it was only half of the way).
After almost 16 hours of terrible road conditions, patchy radio signal, gas station coffees, a few wrong turns and at least an hour of pushing Hestia out of knee-deep snowbank that she had gotten stuck in, we finally made it to the little cabin that would be our basecamp for the music video shoot. We had a weekend to get all the shots, which meant we needed to be up before sunrise every day in order to get the best light and then spend all evening charging and backing up the footage (always back up the footage!) by a fireplace.
The crew and band were all fantastic company and provided plenty of energy (and vodka) to keep our spirits and adrenaline on a steady high level.
Janka, who played the role of Hestia’s owner, turned out not to be exactly a driver. Actually, she had never driven a car before. And such, we had to apply an array of tricks to actually make it look as if driving Mercedes Sprinter was her second nature. That included a fake steering wheel, driving from underneath the driver’s seat, and all sorts of stunts that only common sense could limit. To elaborate on what it took to shoot the scenes with the dog I would have to write a whole separate post.
After the shoot was a wrap and those intense, unreal three days were over, it was time to start heading back. The weather on the way to Berlin was much improved, but it was a drive with a heavy heart as every mile west meant a mile closer to where me and Hestia would have to say the definite goodbye. The last Eurotunnel got me into the UK a little before midnight but with the construction near Folkestone it was almost 4 am when I finally got to my friend’s place.
With my bedding and mattress back in Berlin, I slept on my friend’s couch while my home and travel partner sat soundly on the street outside.
I had been advertising her for a couple weeks and in the meantime, I needed to be a good van owner and see her into a mechanic after such a long trip to make sure she was good and healthy. With a clean bill of health and fresh MOT I was proud to show her off to the prospective buyers and tell them of our adventures together. Of how she drove and of what it was like on cold nights in the mountains (thank you 70mm sheep wool insulation). In the end, the guy who bought her wanted her for the same reasons I did. He had converted a van before but with a growing family, he realized that he needed something bigger to accommodate them all on weekend adventures in Cornwall.
So Hestia gets to continue her adventures with a new family that will care for her while I discover my whole new chapter on the continent.
And well, maybe in a year or two I’ll miss the van life again and will start converting another car. For now, enjoy the music video dedicated to our beloved Sprinter. Cheers to the van life and the grand outdoors!
Lloyd and Natalia are a couple of creatives and climbers, sharing their time in between Berlin and Zurich at the moment. Operatyw is a music band from southern Poland, writing and producing songs in collaboration with diverse local artists. The music video tells a short story of a girl who decides to leave her hometown over Christmas. She has no idea where she’s going, but the most peaceful is where the mountains are.