Tuesday 22 to Saturday 26 August 2006, Germany
It is now time to look at our requirements for traveling further east. The Land Rover with a tent on top and little living space inside is great for Africa but very inconvenient in the rain of Europe. The Renault is great for Europe but it is low on the ground and built for the smooth European roads. We need a vehicle which is high off the ground, has a strong chassis, has an inside bed and where we can stay inside when the weather is bad. That leaves us with 2 options. First buy a 4x4 camper, sell the Renault and take (or ship) the Land Rover to SA. Second buy a demountable for the Land Rover and sell the Renault. A demountable (afzetunit, truck camper) is like a caravan but it fits on the back of a bakkie (pick-up, utility). There are two types, one slides on between the wheels and the other requires a flat bed. The flat bed is the better option for us as it provides the extra storage that we need. We scoured the internet for both options and came up with a list of dealers for both. They were all in either Germany or Holland so we plotted a route to take them all in.
The first dealer was BiMobil near Munich. They have fantastic demountable units that have all the conveniences, reasonable storage and are strong enough to allow extra storage on top. Unfortunately they were off to a show in Dusseldorf, but they gave us two entrance tickets and promised to discuss the options at the show.
We could not find the next dealer, even with our wonderful Garmin GPS. Finally we rang only to discover that they only built to order, something not mentioned on the website.
Next stop Dusseldorf and the 'Caravan and Camper Messe'. There were plenty of sign posts so you could not miss it. And this annual show is big! 8 large halls full of all types of caravans and campers from the very large luxurious ones to compact, basic ones. There were accessories to buy and lots of restaurants and cafes for the weary. There were plenty of options for us. Unfortunately cost is a consideration and prices were pegged at European spenders. A Swiss dealer had a second hand unit available, not on show of course, which looked good and based on the new unit on show would be great quality - Swiss quality of course, better than German (he said). Switzerland was added to our route.
Ah Germany, what a lovely place. Neat little villages with narrow streets perched on hills or nestled in the folds of valleys. And the cakes! To die for! I had not realised how much we missed but from Norway through to the Czech Republic there have not been nice cakes, except for St Petersburg. The emphasis has been on the salty foods. We both drooled and ate. It is also nice to be in a country where the language is closer to English, makes everything just that bit more familiar.
There are plenty of facilities for overnight stopping by the roadside. These are provided for the millions of trucks on the road and the fewer cars and campers. The parking is free but you pay for the use of the toilet. Showers are also available in most places.
Our only tourist stop was Cologne with the twin towered cathedral. It is not as I remember it from 30 years ago. I really must look up those photos some day and compare.
Sunday 27 August to Tuesday 5 September 2006, Holland
So far we had only seen demountables so the first stop in Holland was at a 4x4 camper dealer. What a disappointment! The site was overgrown with hardly anything available, no campers let alone 4x4 campers.
Of course Holland is also about visiting friends and time was spent doing just that. Then on to Middelburg, the town of Pieter's young life. We visited the house he lived in during the war until it was flooded. Walcheren is like a saucer. The Germans used it as a strategic defense point, then the Canadians bombed the dijk. Most residents had to move off the island or to the limited higher ground. Pieter's family moved into one room in the centre of Middelburg.
We found the demountable unit we felt was best suited for our needs there. It is a second hand BiMobil with everything we need. It was built for a double cab pick-up as they all seem to be so we will be able to mount it towards the back and use the space between the cab and the unit for extra storage. It even has a solar panel, a front pull out shade and a German TV aerial. It is more spacious inside than the Renault with as much storage. We have arranged to fly to Almeria on 6 September to bring the Land Rover back. In the meantime we are relaxing, seeing Walcheren and waiting impatiently for time to pass. We will be in our new home by the end of the month.
Wednesday 6 to Saturday 9 September 2006, Spain
The Renault was duly parked on Ram's business property Autoservice Ram's in the late afternoon. We were driven to the railway station and took the train to Schipol. Then it was the long wait until boarding time at 3 am ready for departure at 5:30am. The luggage was placed in a locker and we wandered around the airport, had dinner and found seats we could push together to sleep on at Burger King. The majority of chairs have arms and it is impossible to lie across them. The 2.5 hour flight to Almeria was uneventful. We took local buses from the airport to Almeria, then to the campground. After letting reception know we were there we took the Land Rover out of the parking area, set up the tent and slept until mid afternoon. I had forgotten what heat was like. It was such a pleasure to feel it soaking into my body after so long. Spain is hot, dry and dusty, especially noticeable after the wet, humid air of Holland.
In the afternoon we went to have the wheels aligned, dashed off to Almeria to order a part from Land Rover, unsuccessfully chased up new tyres and ate leisurely at a restaurant before collapsing into bed again.
Thursday started with washing the car. The mechanic yesterday had delicately removed a cobweb from a tyre to read the model number. The Land Rover was covered with cobwebs and lots of African dust. What a difference! The wheels were aligned and once again we had a leisurely meal of seafood.
I also started to chase up medication. We both take chronic medication. Peter's tablets are homeopathic and are only available in Spain. Mine are available everywhere but require a prescription in both SA and the EU. Spain is an exception, it is available over the counter. The major problem is stock. I managed to get a few months supply in Roquettas. Unfortunately when I tried Madrid, the EU rules had been introduced! Not to worry, we will be in Eastern Europe before the tablets run out.
Friday and Saturday were spent traveling. By Saturday evening we were in San Sebastion near the French border. The idea of having a meal on the esplanade appealed so we went into town and looked for parking. Impossible to find. The city was absolutely full and because of the height of the Land Rover we have to park on the street. Eventually we headed out of town to a shopping centre and ended up in a MacDonalds. I must say their salads are not too bad. Then it was on to Bayonne for the night. First though we had to get on to the highway. We had our trusty GPS. Unfortunately the roads have changed since the last software update. It was also dark and we were tired. The signs are not all that easy to see and France is only mentioned occasionally. We drove around, missing the correct turnoffs twice and were heading for another go when trouble struck. We were constantly going through toll stations and this time we were so concentrated on making sure the signs indicated we were going in the correct direction that we both missed seeing the height restriction boom. It was grey and did not show up well unlike the French ones which are white. The boom itself was heavy metal and scraped a tear in the tent cover. Then I discover the booth will only take credit cards. Not a problem we have used our credit card before for tolls. Unfortunately this booth did not take foreign credit cards. The attendant was already at our side to demand we wait at the side of the road for the supervisor, he was able to sort out the payment. We were tired so we stopped and waited and decided since the boom was not damaged (not more than by previous trucks anyway) we had a claim for damage to the tent, after all the boom was difficult to see. The supervisor, naturally, did not see it that way. I also think he was fed up with people ignoring the boom and had decided, since we had waited, that we would pay. As for the tear, surely we had insurance. No, we said, we cannot get insurance in Europe. Now he was really onto something. He decided to phone the police. Totally fed up Pieter started driving, the supervisor did not want to move, but a Land Rover gently pushing is irresistible. We drove off and once again took the wrong turnoff from the circle. He drove up and tried to block us. Pieter drove around and headed for the correct turnoff - right into a toll booth! Actually it seemed to be the same one to me but logic tells me differently. This time he had us. The attendant made sure the boom did not open and the supervisor stopped right behind us. The police duly arrived. One spoke English which helped. They asked about the insurance so we explained that we could not get this in Europe and yes if there was an accident it would be a problem for us. Their body language when speaking to the supervisor was in sympathy with us. Eventually the supervisor realised we would not be charged with anything so he decided to lay a charge of assault. This meant going to the police station to make a statement. We were escorted there, police in front, supervisor behind. Naturally we assumed that we would not pay the toll (all of 65 euro cents) being under escort. How wrong we were. The police went through without paying while the boom was held up by the attendant and when we followed the boom came down. Now we also had a scrape on the bonnet. Once at the police station Pieter wrote out a statement and the police filled in the details from his drivers license and the car papers. They had some fun with this as they were not familiar with the English terms and the translation between English and Spanish. It was all very good natured. The Head of the Station interviewed the supervisor and the supervisor decided to drop the charges. We eventually left after 1 am.
The cheaper hotels in Bayonne were full and we were not the only ones looking for a room. We tried about 6 before giving up and stopping in a parking area beside the highway. Blessed sleep.
Sunday 10 to Monday 11 September 2006, France
The drive through France was much quieter. We stayed in hotels where we had jam with our bread for breakfast. In Spain you get olive oil and cheese. We stopped early and left late. The only sight seeing was lunch in Orleons where Joan of Arc was based.
Tuesday 12 to 3 October 2006, Holland
We arrived in Middelburg late morning. Now it is a matter of waiting. Ram has very kindly allowed us to stay on his property and provided us with electricity.
While waiting for the work on the Land Rover to start on Saturday 16th, we cleaned and polished it for the first time since we bought it. On Saturday it took a few hours to remove the bin and canopy in one section. Then another wait for Monday to order the materials for the base. By Friday afternoon on the 22nd the base was complete and our new house mounted securely. The next step was to move in. We suddenly seemed to have very little storage space but with patience we managed to move everything in, except for the spares. The space under the demountable was made to take the two spare tyres plus other spares. Angle iron and thick wooden planking had been used in the construction and it was too narrow for the tyres. This was adjusted on Tuesday 26th and while I sorted out payments Pieter finished loading the spares. Once again payments took some time because of the daily and transaction limits set by the bank. These are for our protection but can be irritating.
Thursday we left Middelburg for Groningen. Ram has a car sales business as well as the garage and the Renault is there waiting for a buyer. We wanted to go to Garmin and Targus on the way so we only arrived in Groningen on Friday afternoon. A time for rest, mounting the Garmin, buying a fresh water tank and putting up some shelves. We need a fresh water tank as there is only provision for 10 litres, although the waste water tank holds 20 litres. The new tank holds just over 40 litres, is made of PVC piping and fits underneath.
Once everything is sorted out we will return to Targus in Amsterdam to have our power adapter replaced. This particular power adapter allows us to use the computers on either 240 volt or 12 volt - very handy when you do not often stay in a campsite. We will also have to return to Garmin to purchase an external aerial. Unfortunately they were closed when we went past last time. Then we will head south to Italy, Greece and beyond.
|Cost per litre diesel||9.87||1.04|
|Camping per night||189.49||20.00||Diesel costs between 1 and 1.2 Euro.|
|The further north the higher the cost|