We had a major annoyance and a minor disaster on the second day of driving our brand new camper van through France and Belgium to The Netherlands, where we were going to load on all the gear we had bought to make it “home”.
The trip started fine as we drove down the beautiful country lanes of Northern France but as soon as we joined the motorway system we had our first drama.
We were attempting to take the Reims by-pass towards the Belgium border but between Google maps, my interpretation and the lack of signposts where they were most needed, we went round and round in circles and up and down various freeways trying to find the right route.
The road system around Reims seemed crazy. The motorway splits numerous times with exits coming up on top of the split roads – only to split again seemingly straight away. Too many choices! Terrible signposting! Not enough time to observe and decide where to go! In the end we stopped in a car park and recalibrated our Google maps and much to our relief managed to get out of the spaghetti-like tangle of roads.
As we crossed over the border into Belgium, we had our minor disaster. We were on a slip road joining a motorway. There were road works at the side of the road (I think they were widening and lengthening the slip road) and we were filtering on to the motorway when suddenly there was a “thwack” and we realised our offside wing mirror had gone head to head with one of those red and white striped road signs used at roadworks.
The temporary bollard was placed a little bit further out than the others and, because it was very windy, had been weighted down with a couple of massive concrete blocks. Normally, if you come into contact with one of these temporary signs they “give” a little so no damage is done but in this case the concrete blocks held the bollard so firmly that our poor wing mirror smacked hard into the road sign and the mirror fell out!
So there we were, driving a left hand drive van having been used to always driving a right hand drive car, with no off-side wing mirror, in a strange country where the driving style is very different to either Australian or English driving, (eg we are definitely not used to being overtaken at 180km an hour) and feeling we needed our eyes everywhere!
For a moment there we wondered if we had made a big mistake – perhaps the camper van was too big for us? Maybe the European roads were just too crazy for us to drive around? Should we really have swapped our sail boat for a home on wheels? Fortunately the feeling was only fleeting and after a few days of driving around and getting used to our motorhome, we became more confident that we’d done the right thing.
It was great to be back in the Netherlands once again and pick up all the household purchases we had bought in Ikea in Delft and a camping store in Rotterdam a couple of weeks previously. We also found a great caravan/campervan service centre close to our daughter and her partner’s home in Pijnacker that was able to install a sun canopy and a television set and also a bike rack for the two electric bikes that we had ordered.
While we were getting everything organised we also had a couple of days to get to know Delft (a 10 minute bike ride) and The Hague(a 16 minute train ride) a little bit.
In Delft we spent a wonderful morning wandering round the centre dedicated to the the 17th Century painter Johannes Vermeer. Housed in an atmospheric reproduction building on the site of the origin artists’ guild of Saint Luke, where Vermeer was Dean of the painters for many years, the exhibition shows what life was like in his time, has information on his contemporaries and the order and meaning of his paintings.
In The Hague we saw a few of the sites including the Dutch Parliamentary buildings, the Kings Palace and some wonderful arcades and shopping streets. It has a great “buzz” to the place and we are looking forward to exploring it further soon.
After a few days our van was fully equipped and ready to go. We had parked it in a street near our daughter’s house while our preparations were being made and we decided to spend our first night “on board” in the nearby Delftse Hout camping site.
It was quite expensive but as it was peak season and the park really full, we understood why. We were only there for one night, just to get our bearings before we set off for our tour of Scandinavia with anticipation and excitement.