Vlotho, Germany

Campsite: Camping Sonnenwiese. Wifi: Charge of approx. €5. Given a dongle, but this didn’t work. We had our money returned! Armed with the Alan Rogers book for camping in Europe, we chose a site in Vlotho and booked ahead, for two nights. The campsite had extensive grounds and we parked Harvey on a level, grassy pitch next to a large pond. This was our first experience of German camping and we were excited to experience it. As it wasn’t yet high season, the campsite was quite peaceful with only a few other campers around. However the grounds were quite full of static caravans, so this was obviously a popular place for German families to re-visit.

A nice spot

A nice spot

A bit of home on the awning

We know we’ve arrived when the bunting is up!

The pond

The pond

The site is at the foot of a hill bordering the Weser river. At one end it has its own inland harbour for speed boats, and at the other end a huge wheat field.

The border of the river

The border of the river

Don't get lost

Helpful signage makes sure you can’t get lost

The wheat field ... and a coal power station in the background!

The wheat field … and a coal power station in the background!

The facilities were good – clean and orderly, with recycling as a priority point. More importantly they had a great adventure play area for grown up kids, and I had fun whizzing around on their miniature zip wire and climbing on their assault course. They also had a large lake in the middle of the grounds, which apparently was for swimming in, but didn’t look overly appealing at that time. A family of moorhens were making the most of it. DSC00300 DSC00299 DSC00306 We sampled the onsite restaurant for dinner, which seemed (with my limited German) to offer no vegetarian options. My usual staple in moments like this is to request fried eggs and chips – it’s never yet been refused, although a waitress in Spain once teared up over it, as she thought that I had some mysterious illness because I wouldn’t eat meat. I drew a Picasso-esque picture to show to the waitress and received back a massive plate of fries, with two eggs sunny side up and a side of curry sauce (mental note: must learn the German for Tomato Ketchup). Xav fared better than I, as he is an adventurous diner and happy to try anything available. He ordered the traditional pork schnitzel: a tenderized thin slice of meat that is coated with flour, eggs and bread crumbs, before being fried. This was accompanied by a local pilsner beer, full of earthy flavours and the aroma of hops.

Herforder beer

Herforder beer

The rest of the occupants in the restaurant were watching Germany play against Portugal in the World Cup. Not wanting to show ourselves up as outsiders we heartily cheered along, a few seconds too late, each time the Germans scored, or ran across the pitch. There was a very excitable atmosphere in the room and we didn’t want to antagonize anyone. A lady at the table next to ours had a cute little dog (hund), which I tried to befriend. However it growled at me every time I looked at it – obviously it had spotted that we were interlopers. It was time to retire for the evening. By the way Germany won 4-0 that evening. That night our sleep was regularly disturbed by an over amorous frog, whose loud, desperate croaking went on into the small hours of the morning. I had to call forth my vegetarian sensibilities in order to suppress my murderous instincts.

One of the frogs

Miss Piggy, your Kermit awaits!

Big frogs

Big frogs

The amazing sun, that had welcomed us the day before, unfortunately turned to rain the next day. We used the opportunity to do some laundry on-site. Having been lulled into thinking that all Germans speak perfect English, we had been surprised to discover that this wasn’t actually the case at this site. Nor were any of the campsite signs provided in English. This was tricky when trying to use the washing machine, as none of the instructions made sense, and we were unable to access Google Translate. Nevertheless, we had a stab at it and managed to wash and dry our clothes to an acceptable standard. Also, we found for the first time in our travels, that the showers came at a price and were strictly time regulated. A common theme we discovered at this campsite, and future ones we stayed at, was that you either needed tokens or swipe cards to operate the shower and you usually got between 4 – 6 minutes out of them. It became a case of getting wet, turning off the tap, lathering up and then rinsing off. At first you feel paranoid that your water will run out before you are ready, but in reality this never happens and 4 minutes is perfectly adequate for most showering.

Driving through Belgium

We had a smooth crossing from Dover to Calais and then a long drive through France, Belgium and the Netherlands to get to Germany.

Leaving Dover with a cup of jo

Leaving Dover with a cup of jo

Need a shave!

Need a shave!

Our main goal was to visit Scandinavia during June and July, as we had read that these countries were at their warmest and most inviting to visitors during this time. It was therefore not our intention to ignore the other European countries we travelled through, but rather that we would come back to them at a later stage, as we were confident that their good weather would continue into the autumn months.

Xav could not cross Belgium without trying the famous “boulette Liègeoise”: a pork meatball with onion, egg, parsley and some spices. Apparently delicious on the road!

Simple ... but nice

Simple … but nice

The adventure begins!

It was the middle of June 2014, and the first phase of our overseas travels started, as all magical journeys must, in a sweet little B&B pub. After weeks of downsizing our belongings, and packing and re-packing our essential only items, we finally managed to close Harvey’s doors (our campervan), wave the parents goodbye (are they finally leaving?) and set off from Devon to a place far, far away… i.e. Somerset (the next county over).

We had taken all day to sort out our last few things, as well as clean up after ourselves, and we now only had a few hours left in us. So we decided to start as we meant to go on. Our beautiful journey would not be done in a rush. For the first time in years we had no real deadlines to adhere to, so we could do things in our own time and at our own pace.

The inn (The Lord Poulett Arms in Hinton St George) we selected from our Good Pub Guide was a foodie delight, and full of quirky charm. The main quirk for us being that our bathroom wasn’t in the bedroom. It was like camping already! Instead it was a short step away, down the corridor, and opposite the tea / coffee / cake station for the residents (tempting at all times of day and night). There were only about 5 or 6 bedrooms in this 17th century old inn, and because we had booked so late we drew the short straw and got the one without the en- suite. However the bathroom we were allocated did have a roll-top bath!

The Lord Poulett Arms

The Lord Poulett Arms

The garden

The garden

Overall the place was charming and gave us a taste of things to come in our travels. The room offered only an old wireless radio, no TV and the internet connection was dodgy. It’s great to be unplugged I thought joyfully, as I lurked suspiciously in the corridor next to the wifi hub, waving my Ipad around as if I were doing an ancient ritual dance to appease The Wifi.

We had also decided not to plan ahead so much. Being in a campervan should mean that we could have the freedom of the road and therefore stop whenever we pleased, and not worry so much about booking ahead. This part didn’t always work out so well… The next morning we found that the internet worked better downstairs, and we were able to check on ferry connections from Dover to Calais. We realized however that our timing was not conducive for a ferry that day, so we decided that we would camp near to Dover for the evening, and take a ferry the day after instead.

With the expectation that there would be plenty of spaces in any campsite we chose (it wasn’t yet high season, and we were members of the Caravanning & Camping Club after all!), we hit the road and headed out. A few hours into our journey we thought that we should perhaps ring our chosen site, just to confirm that they would have a space. After several unanswered phone calls later, we were told that the campsite was full for the week-end. And so was the next one we chose. Hmm. Wild camping isn’t allowed in the UK, so we knew that we needed to find a site for the night … or a hotel. Luckily, one in Canterbury, Kent had an available pitch so our problem was resolved. But it made us realize that it isn’t always easy to be, well, free and easy. It appeared that some sort of planning would be necessary to ensure that we could have a safe and legal place to stay each evening.

After filling up with tinned goods at a local Tesco Metro (our shopping choices were sadly limited), we triumphantly rolled into the campsite during the latter part of the afternoon. Harvey was quickly set up for the evening. I turned my seat around to create my ‘living room’ chair. Harvey was then plugged into the electricity, and his roof popped up to give us standing space. We next did the traditional ‘campsite walk’, which all campers do on arrival at a new site. This involves traversing the site to check on the facilities, and to find out where the fire extinguishers are in case of an emergency.

We were happy to see that there was a well-maintained and clean modern toilet and shower block. Tents, caravans and campervans all had their own leafy green spots, and there was a sense of peace and orderliness about the place, which was very pleasing. As twilight rolled in, the site also began to fill up with nibbling bunnies. Beatrix Potter would have loved it!