Pardy’s The Last European Tour isn’t your average political statement. The former management consultant is driving nearly 20,000 miles in his van across 33 countries in Europe this summer. The resulting map of his journey, seen through GPS coordinates, will spell the phrase ‘STOP BREXIT.’
“The overwhelming reason why I did this is personal,” Andy Pardy, 28, told The Local in an interview from Greece, as he was preparing to continue his journey by crossing into Bulgaria. As of Thursday, September 20th, he's in Lake Iseo in Italy. “After the Brexit vote I felt powerless. I haven’t been able to participate or assist and I just wanted to do something.”
Even before beginning his journey, Pardy possessed a pan-European background. He grew up in Celle, a riverside small town in Lower Saxony, and has also lived and worked in Spain.
Fuelled by a small budget – and a lot of motivation
Armed with nothing but a van, a GPS and a £5,000 budget, Andy decided he’d undertake the Odyssean journey that will eventually lead him to the four corners of Europe.
Andy travelled most of the journey alone – his partner Katie joined him for large chunks of continental Europe though – although he has never really been short of friends along the way. “My inbox is full of offers for places to stay and lunch invites,” says the former management consultant, who quit his job to undertake the European epic tour.
“I just arrived in Italy yesterday but the sunset by lake Iseo last night was incredible, maybe one of the best so far!” he told The Local on Thursday.
The unassuming Brit says he has been overwhelmed by the press coverage his journey has received. Besides hundreds of emails of encouragement and offers of support from from EU-based residents, Andy has been inundated by press requests. The largest daily in Finland wrote about his journey. The press in Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and France have also all shown a key interest.
Film crews from France and Germany are still hoping to catch a glimpse of the now famous white Volkswagen van as Andy drives on towards his final destination in Bilbao, Spain. He's also been asked to visit several schools and political events.
“I started in Scotland in Loch Lomond,” he recalls. Further itineraries in the UK and Ireland completed the ‘S’-shaped route and saw Andy cross over to mainland Europe.
The ‘T’ was drawn by driving through “incredible landscapes” in Sweden and Norway, recalls Andy. “For the ‘O’ I went near the Arctic Circle, and for ‘P’ to the Finnish and Swedish Lapland and the north of Norway,” Andy told The Local.
This scenery was one of the journey’s highlights, he says. “I never thought I’d do anything like that,” added the driving crusader. “It’s hard enough to visit, let alone by van.”
Spelling out the exit
The journey will end in Spain next month in October – after he writes his own ‘exit’ across the European continent.
So far, the route for the word ‘Stop’ took in the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Andy and his van then persevered from Finland into Estonia, then Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and into Slovakia towards Europe’s south – a route whose GPS coordinates will eventually spell the word ‘Brexit.’
The letters are now getting more complicated, with long haul routes bending backwards and forwards in Europe needed to spell the letters ‘B,’ ‘R’ and ‘E.’
The word ‘Brexit’ is being spelt backwards, not as a nod to the chaos in the ongoing negotiations but for climactic reasons: Andy wanted to conclude his journey in October in Spain, a country he loves and would like to settle in.
The British journeyman says he has hardly encountered any obstacles along his adventure. The bureaucratic difficulties he experienced trying to enter Belarus, a third country for EU purposes, only served to highlight how easy it was to travel to and from 26 EU Member States without any visas or an international driving license. He has only skipped two EU Member States, Cyprus and Malta, as “they are not exactly easy to reach by van.”
“Another highlight has been the beautiful capital cities of Eastern Europe: Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw,” adds Andy, whose next destination is Chamonix in Mont Blanc in France.
“Travelling down from Lithuania into Poland and then crossing into the Tatra Mountains in Slovakia was also great. I had no idea how big and vast the Tatra Mountains are before I went,” he told The Local. “Romania was the real hidden gem,” he says. Medieval cities in Transylvania, such as Sibiu, and the national parks opened his eyes to a “beautiful country.”
“Free camping with wild dogs and other animals in Romania was an experience too” he adds. Andy also drove on what the Top Gear team once labelled “the world’s best road,” the Transfăgărășan in the Carpathian Mountains.
“I don’t pretend to be an expert on all the intricacies surrounding Brexit,” he says, adding that his GPS slogan is unlikely to stop Brexit. Yet the welcome he has received across the European continent has reinforced his idea that open borders can challenge the appeal of sovereignty.
Hundreds of messages have flooded in to Andy’s inbox but conversations on the road have also been an insight. “In Greece it has been interesting talking to people about their opinions of the EU. At times people have told me how overwhelming the refugee influx has been,” he says.
Andy still has another month of his journey, and many litres of petrol left for his van – which last had a service stop in Germany. But he plans to offset his carbon footprint by tallying it up at his closing party in Madrid in October.
“The debate about Brexit has been stagnant on both sides and the idea is to send a positive message,” Andy told The Local.
“My preference would be to debate in Brussels and reform,” he adds. “When I set off I was very pro freedom of movement. This journey has reinforced how I felt.”