5th September 2017
Simon Reeve bites the bullet and sets off across Europe in his van with his six-year-old in tow. Destination: Legoland Billund
It takes a lot to persuade a feral six- year-old to sit calmly in a vehicle for a seemingly interminable journey across Europe. No youngster would volunteer to spend a couple of days driving through France, Belgium, Holland and into Germany, to sit in hours of traffic jams near Hamburg. Luckily, there was a pot of gold at the end of our recent roadtrip to Denmark to see my wife’s family. Its name? Legoland.
Some parents have a tricky relationship with Lego. After all, the company no longer just churns out simple bricks for children to turn into a blocky penguin or soaring rocket, but instead brilliant and fiendishly complicated kits to accompany every major global movie. I’ve been one of those suckers who’s spent the price of a good meal on little bits of plastic that are transformed – after patiently acting as sous-chef to my young master builder – into obscure Star Wars vehicles.
I come down on the side that says Lego is still brilliant, and gets parents and kids playing and building together.
But, of course, there are those who think the bricks have become a racket, with kits that cost a fortune, take an age to make, and then fall apart when tapped on a wall as they’re being put on a top shelf for safety.
Still, the lure of Legoland persuaded the lad to sit strapped in his chair as we motored across the Low Countries. We used to take the overnight ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, but since that was infuriatingly cancelled, we packed our large dog into the back of the van and set off for a sedate roadtrip.
Paced over a few days, it was actually pretty painless. Obi, a black Alsatian-Collie cross who looks like a lab on steroids, snoozed calmly in the back of our van. Anya my wife, who was driving, had mapped out parks and walks to keep him entertained and exercised every few hours. My duties were feeding the family from my magic fridge bag and managing childcare on the back seat, which mostly consisted of reading an entire Harry Potter book using a variety of regional accents and explaining for the hundredth time why we can’t afford to buy a large Lego Death Star (currently selling for more than 2,000 quid on Amazon).
On our first night on the road, we slept in the back of the van in a Dutch motorway service station. It might not be for everyone, and you wouldn’t want to squeeze into anything less than our long-wheelbase VW Transporter, but for family-bonding, it’s perfect. Plus, it scores maximum points in my quest to make sure my lad isn’t a prissy traveller. Peeing into a bottle and sleeping on a Thermarest is good for him.
When we finally crossed the border into Denmark, there were cheers and, I swear, a happy rumble from Obi.
Another hour or two, and we were pulling into a packed car park in Billund, and racing into Legoland for a soaking on the Pirate Splash Battle ride. Over-enthusiastic German parents (I could hear them shouting targeting instructions) were standing to the side using tripod-mounted water-guns to drench us in our boat. Imagine my delight when one of their guns failed and my lad was able to use his own water-jet to send a torrent into their face. He spent the rest of the journey towards his Danish grandma’s place cackling with delight.