A camper life
Camping in Europe
"You can't have the same experience in Europe in a motorhome as you can in the States in an RV!" said Sarah.
"True, not quite the same. But still fun for us?" I asked, typically unsure of myself. [shut-up]
Sarah, the kids and I have spent several holidays away in rental motorhomes (or mental rotorhomes) in Europe, mostly in the UK. And it's true... it's quite different in Europe. One of the greatest things about the USA is the State and National Park network, and the camping options within them. We've stayed on foggy Pacific beaches, inland mineral lakes, atop mountains, deep beneath the mighty redwoods, even in the middle of the desert. Take a Gander...
The funny thing is, one of my first major purchases, at the gullible age of 19, was an orange camper similar to that in the photo.
Great, eh? But now you need a house mortgage to buy a decent VW Camper: these days they capture the zeitgeist of the young camping experience in a way only that venerable German marque can. Now 'classics', they even come exempt from road tax and emissions charges (no need for a 'defeat device'), in some European countries. Back in the day, VW didn't have to bother cheating the emissions tests -- a cloud of blue-black smoke from the rear was a good sign: proof the darn thing was still running.
Truth be told, mine was a right mess. The paint was flaking, there were a few dents here and there (easier to say, there were a couple of panels that didn't look like they'd been used on a Kurdish tank). More than that, the engine was tired, and the exhaust was mostly dragged behind me, making a noise more recognisable as a Dover hovercraft.
When, as a poor student, I was forced to sell my Dub, I was quite worried about finding anyone who'd take it on. Imagine my relief when an old boy (probably in his late seventies) turned up one day at the house.
Note the colours in the photo - my old VW was a tasteful orange-rust colour just like this one. We'll come back to the colour choice in later posts!
"HELLO, I'VE COME TO SEE THE CAMPER."
"Err, hello," says I, backing away from the ear-lashing, "it's out here..."
As I walked away, I realised the fella wasn't following me.
"WHAT YOU SAY?"
Cue waving of hands and wide-mouthed pronunciation.
"I said, it's out here. Follow - me - follow - that's it!"
"SORRY. LEFT MY HEARING AID AT HOME. YOU'LL HAVE TO SPEAK UP."
"You're hard of hearing? Really?"
(Working my pubescent poker-face)
Guilty? A little. But perhaps the van's still running... ? [who are you kidding?]
True story. Sold the old Dub for more than I bought it for, which was about three yards of rope, five shillings and an orphaned goat. Those were the days.
When we've been away in motorhomes to England (Cornwall, Dorset), Scotland (including the Outer Hebrides: (incredible)), Belgium (yeah, I dunno either) and The Netherlands, it's been different: it's largely been about big campsites jam-packed with low-cut chavs and high-pitched children. Painting a good picture so far?
But we need to be fair, too. We've also wildcamped on rugged Northumbrian beaches. We've watched the Atlantic bully towering granite cliffs. We've stayed on flowering meadows and in the grounds of historic castles. Sound better?
Yet the truth remained, as the conversation above revealed; Sarah and I weren't convinced about spending our long breaks camping around Europe in a motorhome. Busy roads. Little wilderness. Could it work for us?
This wasn't my first experience of a VW camper, either. My parents had one for many years. Too many.
It was an old splitty (I said splitty) and looked a bit like the beaut in the photo below.
My experiences of that camper were dominated by one particular occasion aged about 12 when my parents took me with them on a road trip. We stopped at a petrol station to fill up, in some rural backwater in England, and I got out to wander around the showroom (checking out the old sports cars). When I came back outside, the camper had gone! My parents had left me behind. I still remember the station attendant wandering out to see me while I sat, highly embarrassed, on the wall by the side of the road waiting (hoping) that they'd come back and get me. I had visions of becoming a garage child-slave-worker. More oil on that, master?
The attendant just smiled.
"You okay? Left you behind, did they?"
I must have nodded, disconsolately, and he wandered off again, chuckling. Sure enough, fifteen hours later (well, I was 12), my ex-parents reappeared.
"We thought you were a bit quiet in the back," said the man-I-used-to-know-as-my-father, with a grin not dissimilar to the attendant's.
It's a wonder I'm not turned off campers for life. But I'm not. Twenty-plus years after I sold my old VW, I'm a camper owner again. And no, Mum, it's not a VW this time. Sorry.