This was our first camper van trip in our own vehicle; a VW T4. It’s mechanically sound but the interior design is a bit eccentric. The vendors were into black; so it’s black units and insulation throughout with black and white curtains and flooring. Its a good foil for strong colour though and I had fun finding all the brightest enamel ware and bedding we had.
Camping in rural Holland was something new to both of us but the Dutch are experts, have more camp sites than anyone else and you can book online in English so it’s not difficult.
I love to pack for a trip, it’s in my DNA, but packing for camping makes you an uber micro manager because you have to think about cooking, sleeping etc as well. In my defense I only drove myself mad with my lists and tiny plastic boxes of spices and herbs (I think) and I got that safari dinner on the Ikea folding table every night without fail!
And of course you have to take the ferry. I got really excited when I saw the Stenaline Hollandica berthed in Harwich docks taking up half the horizon. The smell of diesel and that familiar clank as we drove over the ferry doors and onto the ship, took me straight back to summer trips home from Germany, in our green Cortina estate, for a 01.00 or 03.00 sailing. The whole family was tired after driving 8 hours or more from Detmold to Oostende or Calais with the four of us kids in the back bickering about space. So the ferry was exciting and a relief. We could eat and get some sleep on a long seat somewhere. These days the ferries have had an upgrade and you have to book a cabin for an overnight sailing but they are worth every penny and you are woken up gently at 6.30 am with the opening bars of “Don’t worry be happy” and the morning sea view. Lovely.
We headed for North Holland from the Hook and stayed near Den Helder at Donkere Duinen (dark dunes) campsite. A lovely site but you have to have to walk for 30 mins or cycle to get to the beach. It’s a nice walk and a nice beach when you get there (see above). And Den Helder is a good vantage point for the Friesland islands and pretty towns like Harlingen. Plus you are never far from water in the Netherlands whether it’s sea, lakes or canals. The dykes were impressive particularly Afsluitsdijk, the 18km dyke which straddles the Waddenzee and the Ijsselmeer (below).
We found Dutch campsites friendly, leafy, pretty and quiet, like Centreparcs 🙂 They are often on the other side of a dyke, near a wood or a bulb field. The toilet/shower blocks are always clean and have private washing cubicles which are useful if the showers are occupied. Sure beats the unlamented custom of communal strip washing at sinks in youth hostels years ago. At E’t Hof site near Wijdenes there was this large and beautiful pond outside the shower block.
Expect to find men in the women’s shower block sometimes, some families shower together with babies and toddlers.
A note on dish washing, it is very organised. One site had a row of identical sinks with separate signs for washing veg, textiles, or dishes. Same pipes, same drain. I tried washing up in the veg sink or viceversa but I was looking over my shoulder all the time 🙂
Present day campers are rarely minimalists, people have huge vans. The Swiss and the Italians scored highest for flamboyance driving things called Hobby 700 and Granduco which are like small bungalows on wheels. The Dutch seemed to go for the big caravan with massive awning and dining tables, table lamps and large potted plants inside, outside and hanging from the awning. Paper lanterns in the trees and an inflatable dog kennel were also spotted.
However, despite the obvious differences in camping styles and income, the essential democracy of camping prevails in the main. If you rock up in a T4 and get out your humble table, garden chairs and some well used pans to cook on your camping gas ring, people are still friendly and polite. Some even looked a bit wistful.
So camping what’s the verdict? It’s fun and hard work at the same time, we haven’t got the relaxing part down yet. I think we need a couple of sunloungers so we can copy the seasoned campers who sleep all afternoon with their mouths open after a hard morning’s boat or birdwatching. All that fresh air, it’s strangely serene. When can we go again?