Much has happened since our last van outing. Covid was up, then down, then the rules were relaxed. We managed some trips abroad namely to expensive Iceland and cheap Poland. War broke out in Europe, who’d have thought. We have had personal events happen to us both including the loss of family. During all of this we managed to continue working, in fact we have both been kept very busy, back to pre-covid and some! It has been one long roller coaster so after a heavy stint of work and personal pressures it was decided that we would lock everything up, get the cover off Jess, stock her up and set off for Europe for a good long six weeks.

We have had Jess now for 4 years and we have seen lots of Europe. It’s a big land mass and there is still lots to see. This time we have decided that we will venture further east and have a look at places like Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Hungary and so on, whilst still taking in the usual places like Germany and France which we enjoy very much. Without much of a plan, except the purchase of a ferry ticket, we are due to set off on the 28th May 2022

Before we set off we just have to get a bunch of work done. Hayley is going backwards and forwards between home and London working for both ITV and the new Talk TV channel. Del has the usual corporate events and a short tour for Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. Amen!

WEEK 1Saturday 28th May to 3rd June

Home to Ahrbruck Germany – 481 miles

We have done it many times, there is a camp site, Waverley Park, just around the corner from us. Very handy for prepping our stuff before going, if we forget something then it’s a short walk home for any late pickups. It’s nice as well, there is a great view of the Solent looking north to the mainland especially in good weather.

Dinner at Waverley Park on the Isle of Wight

Not much of a food prep for this trip as the rules for taking certain foods into Europe has changed since Brexit, so eggs, milk and dairy is off, meat can’t be taken in either. We do wonder though what would happen if we did take stuff with us. Is it just confiscated, do you get a fine or are the chances of being stopped so remote that it’s not worth worrying about? Anyway it’s a risk we don’t want to take so the fridge is bare at the start of this trip. Beer and wine is ok though. Whew!

Sat 28th May

We set off bright and early for the first leg of the trip. Fishbourne on the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth. A simple 45 minute crossing. There is some slack time in the trip but we have to account for getting along the south coast from Portsmouth to Dover and the check in time for the Channel ferry crossing.

Upon arriving at the Fishbourne ferry we find that there is an hour delay for our crossing to Portsmouth. Great! You can always depend on Wightlink ferries to scupper your best laid plans, in fact any UK mode of travel will do all it can to mess you up. Not a great start.

Finally we are waved aboard. We have lost an hour, so no more slip ups.

Not quite… We arrive into what looks like a free flowing quiet Dover Port but once we get deeper in the queue to get your passport checked stretches for a long way and is slow, so slow we didn’t move an inch for over an hour. Once through we are late for our Calais crossing but offered Dunkerque instead. Why are we in a rush? It’s a Saturday and we have no food as we are not allowed to take it, apparently, and the shops on mainland Europe close early on a Saturday and don’t open on Sunday, we don’t even have stuff to make a cup of tea!

The DFDS ferry to Dunkerque is full, rammed. The two hour crossing was passed with fish and chips on board. Nice.

We finally disembark at 7:00pm, 1 and a half hours late. Luckily we did find a Carrefour, a French supermarket, so H dives in and does a quick shop while Del guards the van! An hour later we are parked up in a lovely spot under some trees with a windmill in the town of De Panne, Belgium. Finally we are in Europe, late, but we have arrived.

Sun 29th May

De Panne is a lovely town which has a fantastic beach front and theme park which has one the world’s most renowned rides. We keep saying this, and our intentions are always good but we want to do more walking and cycling each time we go away on the van, so we do the right thing and get the bikes off the back and set off into the town of De Panne passing the theme park which goes by the name of Plopsaland. It’s a little unassuming but Hayley, who is a rollercoster enthusiast, knows all about this place and what rides are in here, the plan is to go in tomorrow. Del is not so mad on coasters so he has the job of carrying the bag!

Hayley’s bag carrier!

When we arrive at Ploppsaland it’s quiet and it is suggested that while we are here now, on the bikes, and it doesn’t look busy, that maybe we should go in right now. Without too much thinking on Hayley’s part we are in the short line and buying a pair of tickets. Faithful Del discharges his duties well by carrying the bags and cycle helmets while Hayley gets her head rattled on the rides, especially the world famous “Ride to Happiness” which is a rollercoster that does the usual rollercoastery things but the cars that you sit in spin as well!!! Why would you go on that?

Put yer hands up in the air…!

After all said and done it was a lovely couple of hours, Hayley had a good time and Del had to admit that it was nice park to walk around but that was about it.

Another short cycle ride and we are on the De Panne beach. No word of a lie but we are astonished. It would not be out of place in Miami. White sandy beaches that stretch for miles with high rise apartments and chic resturants and bars.

De Panne sandy beaches. Just like Miami

We decide to have a drink in one of the bars and watch a strong North sea in the afternoon sunlight whilst sipping Belgian beer and eating calamari. Splendid.

Full of beer and fish we cycle back to Jess and settle in for the night. Tomorrow we are going to a place that we first went to back in 2018, our first European stop ever in Jess.

Mon 30th May

Our first Belgian stop was very nice. A lovely campsite called Camping Kindervreugde. Very pleasant. Today it’s a short bumpy drive to Poperinge in Belgium. Bumpy because some of the Belgian roads are a bit, well, bumpy and unfinished in parts. We are going to what was our first European campsite when we first bought Jess called Camping Stal ‘t Bardehof.

Pygmy goat watching.

Great to watch when you have a local beer.

We do like it there. It’s a rustic farm with well defined pitches right in the middle of Westvleteren, Belgium. Nice walks and great bike riding. The site has a dark, musty, home-built bar that serves lots of local Belgian beers, the staff are friendly and… it’s cheap! Oh and they have the best pygmy goats.

Tues 31st May

We are woken up bright and early by a Cuckoo, a sound you don’t often hear but in this area they are about all the time. After breakfast we take a walk. This area has many cemeteries from both the first and second world wars where many British, Canadian and American troops died, most very young. Very sobering, but places well worth a visit. The gardens are well manicured and it’s a very peaceful place to walk through.

We make our way to the local abbey Sint-Sixtus where, some say, is where the world’s best beer is brewed. We sit in the lovely cafe and have some local abbey cheese with the best beer of course. Very nice. We decide that we like here so much that we will have dinner here tonight and cycle here and back. Looking forward to that.

Back at the van we just relax, read and chat. We are still trying to decide on our route. We normally have a good idea about where we are going, but for some reason we haven’t got a plan. We do know that we would like to see some of east Europe, but which countries and for how long? No idea.

Dinner tonight is by bike back to the Sint-Sixtus Abbey for a very nice dinner and cycle back just in time to hear the cuckoo before making our way to bed.

Wed 1st June

The future. The robot, not the bloke!

Time to get some shopping in with the help of this little chap!

Today we plan to stay at a free parking spot on the quay near Strepy-Thieu which has some of the most spectaularly engineered boat lifts. We have been there before and visted 3 of the 4 lifts so we though we might try it again. Our enthusiasm was damped when we arrived as the local council have banned camping on the quay now which is such a shame. The last time we came you could camp here, no facilities, but you could stay overnight and an ice-cream van used to pop by every day. Now that’s all stopped now in the name of someone’s idea of progress. Sadly we didnt stop and had to move on, but if you are in the area do check these lifts out.

We decide to move on from Belguim and go to Holland to a nice little farm there but on arrival we find that it’s full. It is a bit late in the day but we are still suprised that it’s busy. Not to be discouraged we try another campsite, again full! What’s going on? Next door there is a large commercial site called Euro Camping and for an astonishing 33 euros we are given a space with a stunning view of the valley of Gulpen, Holland. It’s now late, we are 33 euros lighter, but the view with a cup of tea is quite something.

Thurs 2nd June

We wake up to a lovely warm sunny day so it’s breakfast outside looking over the valley.

Breakfast in Holland

We get talking to our Dutch neighbours who have a small 4.5m caravan. It’s a real cute little thing with a retro style, modern build. We are fascinated by it and they offer us a look around. It was amazing, so cute inside as well as outside with lots of room.

Today we are heading to Germany. Hayley needs to be settled into a good, safe campsite for a week which is near an airport as Del is flying back to the UK on Monday morning to do a job that was booked and agreed sometime ago. It’s also a regular job for a regular client, plus it will be extra ‘van tokens‘. German roads and motorways are excellent and free! We are heading for Camping Denntal in Ahrbruck, just south of Cologne. Some of the area was devastated in severe floods last year but this site is away from the river in a valley surrounded by woodland.

Home for Hyaley for the next week

We arrive and the very helpful lady gives us the run down on the site’s facilites and allows us to choose a space. We plump for a nice private spot right by a small stream. It’s beautiful and peaceful here. All you can hear is the birds and the stream babbling by. Great. Everything is here that you need for a comfortable stay. Good walks are also to be had so Hayley should be nice and safe here.

Fri 3rd June

Here we go again! Less than an hour’s drive away there is another theme park! Phantasialand Looks like Del is carrying the bag again.

Today we are up early, packing up and by 8am we are driving down a German motorway to Phantasialand. Hayley has already bought the tickets online. We get a little lost but soon we are directed to a safe parking space for what will be a long day.

Theming for F-L-Y

These theme parks are all the same. Very well manicured and maintained with music blurting out everywhere you go, even in the toilets. You can’t escape it.

Today, for some reason it’s not very busy so Hayley gets to go on all the rides without too much waiting. She has a great time on all the hi-tech, fast, throw you about rides and comes off each one grinning while Del is still carrying the bag. Here in this park are another two world class rides, one of which – FLY – is a coaster where you are suspended face down. It is Hayley’s new favourite in the world and the area it is in is beautifully themed.

FLY in action

After a whole tiring day it’s back to the van and a drive home to the campsite. Del drives as Hayley would probably still think she is on a coaster and get a ticket for speeding.

The weekend starts tomorrow and it’s Whitsun here in Germany so it could get busy here.