x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

French mum's campervan odyssey with kids in tow brings her to UAE

A French mother and her two children have arrived in the UAE in their latest stop of an epic adventure from Europe to South-East Asia - by camper van.

Christine Alessandrini, 42, along with Julie, 12, and Thomas, 10, with the caravan near Jumeirah open beach opposite Dubai zoo. Pawan Singh / The National
Christine Alessandrini, 42, along with Julie, 12, and Thomas, 10, with the caravan near Jumeirah open beach opposite Dubai zoo. Pawan Singh / The National

DUBAI // A French mother and her two children have arrived in the UAE in their latest stop of an epic adventure from Europe to South-East Asia - by camper van.

Christine Alessandrini, 42, along with Julie, 12, and Thomas, 10, left the family home in Nantes in August and have driven more than 7,000km through Italy, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Iran before arriving in Sharjah by ferry in November.

They are currently in Dubai and have visited Oman and Musandam. They plan to set off for Thailand early in February and continue on to Laos and Cambodia before travelling all the way back to France. If everything goes to plan, they will have covered more than 27,000km by the time they arrive home.

The family's trip, however, has not been all trouble-free and she told of the heart-stopping moment they feared their camper van was about to plunge over a mountain precipice.

Christine was driving up a steep, winding road in the Dolomites in north-east Italy with Julie and Thomas when the Ford Autostar ran out of power.

"My vehicle is not four-wheel drive and is heavy and not that powerful," she said. "We were on a winding road that was very steep and at one point I could not go on any further. The engine was smoking a lot and smelling so bad.

"It was really stressful, it wouldn't go forward and was rolling a little backwards and we had this sheer drop on the right. Julie and Thomas were really frightened, they thought we were going to go backwards over the precipice and die.

"The only thing I could do was drive backwards, but that was so crazy because of the precipice and the winding turns. That was the worst moment, they were in tears. But we got down safely."

Despite this scare, Christine said she had never regretted setting off with the children on the trip of a lifetime.

"I wanted to show the world to my children and really open their minds," said Christine, a self-defence instructor. "I love travelling and wanted to share this with them."

Her husband Bertrand, a scientist, has remained at home. She added: "He's just not the travelling type. He is very special but he doesn't want to travel at all.

"He supported me, though he was worried about some of the countries and what I would do if the children were sick and how I would manage to take care of them all the time. But you can manage on your own."

The youngsters are loving the trip, but Julie said: "I miss my dad and my friends, though I like being in Dubai."

Thomas said he missed his father as well, and was longing for some French food. Looking around the cramped interior of the camper van, he added: "I miss the space in our house, some space for myself."

Christine, who spent two-and-a-half years planning the journey, is careful to avoid any potential risks and scrapped plans to drive across Pakistan as she felt this would not be safe. She is home-teaching the youngsters and expects the return trip to take between 10 months and a year.

All three said the best part of their travels so far had been the kindness shown to them by people they met, particularly in Iran and Oman. Christine was surprised at how safe she felt most of the time, though she had trouble with men making unwelcome approaches on two occasions. Both times she was able to defuse the situation.

In Iran she tried to ward off male curiosity by buying a fake black beard and passing herself off as a man. However the plan backfired as the startling spectacle of her wearing the heavy beard and dark glasses only drew more attention.

She said: "The children were going to swear I wasn't their mother any more, they kept saying: 'Mummy, it's shaming, take it off'."

csimpson@thenational.ae

Full details of the family's journey are available at jumatolie.eklablog.fr/