Monday, July 26, 2010

Special Edition - Camp Life

Alex having PB & J in the camper

Texas on the move in Europe
Alex's normal traveling position

Campground Restaurant
Hanging the Laundry

Had to represent!
Let me share with you the typical day in the campground. We had 5 in our traveling party. Frederick and I were in the back in a permanent bed, Frederick's parents used the convertible dining booth bed in the center and Alex took the bunk the pulled down over the drivers and passengers seat. The camper had a bathroom with a sink and shower, a 3 burner gas stove, a kitchen sink, freezer and refrigerator. There were plenty cabinets and cubbies, that locked for travel, to stash all our stuff. We also brought our over the door shoe holder. This is a lifesaver in small spaces. You can stash all those little things that never seem to have a place, like brushes, lotion, jewelry etc. We learned this from our cruise cabin days. We also went to Wal-Mart the night before we left and purchased 3 small plastic caddies. They were about 12 inches long and 6 inches wide, open at the top with smaller holes on the side. Mini versions of the ones they use on Clean House when they load out all the junk the hoarders keep in their houses. These were great to carry our toiletries back and forth to the showers. European campsites have many amenities. We stayed at 15 or so different sites. They break down into a few categories, smaller run family camps and mega resort camps. The camps can be out in the country or they can be in the heart of the city. In Prague.Budapest, Vienna. Salzburg, Munich and Frankfurt, we were within the city limits. As we wandered out to Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland we were more in the wilderness. The smaller camps will have 3-5 shower stalls per gender, washing up sinks, dishwashing sinks and laundry washing sinks. Larger camps may have 30 showers per gender in each of 3-5 locations across the camp. They will also have a washer and dryer. We had fun figuring out how to use the washer and dryer as the instructions were not in English. Frederick had the bright idea to copy the settings of the user next door. Turns out that was the "Bill O'Reilly" setting...No Spin Zone. In most places everything from hot water in the showers to the laundry operates with tokens you purchase at reception...except when reception isn't open. So we had a load of very wet laundry that we tried unsuccessfully to dry and then hang. We couldn't buy more tokens, reception was closed. We ended up taking the wet laundry with us on the next site to be dried.

The camper has a shower, but it's small and you then have to empty and refill your water, so we decided not to use it. Every day Frederick's mother would be the first up and come back with the shower report. They all had their own quirks. Some tokens were 6 minutes of stop time hot water, some were 4 minutes of run time. Some had no tokens, but required you to keep pushing a button every seconds. Some gave you 4 free minutes, then you had to wait, dripping wet for 3 minutes for the shower to reset. Some had key sensors that had purchased time loaded on the actual key. Some had a nice changing area before the actual shower, some did not and forced you to look at naked Europeans as they exited the shower and changed. Some had separate rooms to sit down and do your hair and makeup. My terry robe and turbie hair towel was a huge asset. The boys just put their stinky clothes back on for the trip back to the camper. For some reason, Alex always seemed to miss the morning shower report (still sleeping) and managed to fail on shower operations and was punished with cold showers. A 14 year old boy is not happy after a failed shower!

Your shower shoes were your best friends. I have always hated crocs until this trip. Most locations had very clean facilities and did their best to make you comfortable. For the price, about 35 to 40 Euros a night for 5 people, one cannot complain. We would have only been able to stay week if we needed a hotel room each night, plus we never had to pack and unpack while in the camper. The beds were moderately comfortable, I've slept on worse.

The kitchen was serviceable. Frederick's parents were in London the week before and made a large batch of spaghetti sauce and adobo (it's a Filipino pork dish) and rice. Many nights we just heated these up and ate in. We also managed to cook sausages and onions, potatoes, grilled cheese, ramen noodles, scrambled eggs and French toast. We survived with no microwave or oven. Most campsites had freshly baked bread you could purchase right on site. The smaller campsites had strict rules about silence after 10PM. In Prague, we were asked to shut off our air conditioner at midnight as it's reassuring hum was breaking the silence.

Some of the larger campsites had communal kitchens, pools, and restaurants. The sites near the Netherlands had karaoke, bingo, gambling and entertainment. Others had large playground for the kids. There were entertainers that were on the campground circuit. I imagine this is what upstate New York was like in the early 20th century. The Catskills, the borscht belt.

Each morning we'd all get up, and one by one or two by two head to the showers. Then I precede to find the coolest (not hip, cold) location to get ready. Sometimes this was outside. I'd set up the table, chairs and powerstrip and do my hair and makeup. At night when we returned, we might cook, but mostly we took out the 4 laptops we brought and searched for the wifi. Wifi was so frustrating! Sometimes it worked if you were close enough to reception. On 2 occasions we moved our campsite location to be closer to wifi. Sometimes in worked outside, but not inside. Sometimes it worked on one computer but not the other. In Munich they had no wifi, but they had a hard wired connection for 1 Euro an hour in a room next to the front office. We brought along our small portable router and made our own hotspot. Alex and I were inside the space next to the office, with our laptops, trying to conceal the router. Frederick and his parents were outside trying to look inconspicuous as they pulled down their email over the pirate wifi. For those you used the free, unsecured, Go Stars network that are welcome.

Other sites required you purchase wifi time and receive a code on a slip of paper. You had to do this at reception and reception was often closed when we arrived. Sometimes we'd log out and lose the paper. Basically just a pain! Most of the larger sites expected you to stay for a week or more. Some have people who keep their pitch all year round. So, missing one night of wifi, doesn't seem like a big deal if they think you are staying longer.

The pitches are very close together. This isn't like you get your plot of woods and your neighbor is unseen. Most times the next campsite was 20ft away from you. Like houses close together, you can maneuver the awning side of the camper so you have maximum privacy. It really wasn't a problem.

As I said some people stay for a month or more. They really go all out to deck out their space, especially in near Holland. They bring landscaping, flowers, paving stones, outdoor carpet, fences and real furniture from home. It's like they create a 2nd country home. We thought we brought creature comforts...we were amateurs.

We had to learn to dance in smaller spaces, say excuse me a lot, but we learned. We'd have our panic moments as we couldn't find this phone charger or that brush. With all the cubbies you'd forget where you put stuff. Sometimes we'd roll out in a hurry and things would get stuffed in odd spaces. Over time we developed a rhythm. All the powerstrips (4 of them and an extension cord...we had full electricity when we were parked at camp) eventually all went back into one Costco bag each night, the same with my blow dryer, hot rollers, curling iron and make up. Laptops found a regular home.

When we'd stop for a time, not a campsite, to see a site, Frederick would switch the refrigerator to gas power to keep things cold. We had an enormous storage area in the back. I'd say 5ft by 5ft by 8ft. All the extra water and drinks, stand fan, table and chairs would stow there along with our suitcases. Plenty of room!

Would I travel like this again? Absolutely! We'd get a smaller camper to save the hairaising driving on some of the tiny roads, but camping was not a problem. Take this from a creature loving Taurus. There's no way we would have seen as much or stayed for so long without an expensive tour or be forced to drag our luggage off each connecting train. It only rained a few nights and we stayed dry under the awning or inside.

It was a great way to travel.

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