Our stay in the Netherlands was drawing to a close and we were busy getting ready to drive our “land yacht” (aka our camper van) back to Turkey.
Loaded up with enough food and other essentials to last us for at least a few weeks, we set off on a rainy, miserable day.
As usual, it was sad to farewell our daughter and son-in-law but as they were booked to fly to Turkey in just a few weeks for Christmas we didn’t feel as sad as usual. However, with Covid numbers rising and the threat of restrictions being reintroduced, it was by no means a done deal that they would arrive as planned.
Our first stop was Bremen in north-west Germany. We had ordered some new equipment for our boat from the sailing megastore SVB Bremen which we had expected to be delivered to the Netherlands. When the items didn’t turn up we called to find out why and were told they hadn’t been couriered because the store didn’t accept credit card payment from new customers. Would have been good if they could have told us beforehand!
So, having paid by bank draft, we once again eagerly waited delivery of the goods, hoping they would arrive before our departure date. But no, at the eleventh hour the store let us know that their bank had charged a fee when the transfer came through and they couldn’t release the goods until we had paid them the shortfall created by the charges.
By then it was too late for the goods to be couriered so we had to drive there to collect them. The irony was that because we picked the goods up, the bill was reduced and we were owed a refund!
Having finally picked up our boat bits with no further issues we looked for somewhere to stay the night. We thought it would be easy to find a spot but the camper van park in Bremen was packed to the rafters!
We squeezed into one of the last spaces with some difficulty as the ground was incredibly muddy and the space extremely small with bushes in front of it that we had to plough through to get into the space!
The weather was still rainy and dull the following day but before setting off again we had a nice walk to the nearby River Weser which is the longest river to flow entirely in Germany.
All along the lane we walked along there were holiday homes – some reasonably large and others tiny but they were all very neatly kept and each one had a cute sign on their gate.
Our next stop was meant to be a nice looking farm site in Leipzig Nordost but when we arrived we quickly realised that the place was well and truly closed.
The proprietor was busy splitting logs with a power saw and had ear muffs on. When he eventually realised we were there, he told us that the authorities had declared the whole area closed to tourists due to Covid. He advised us to drive to Halle where there were no such rules.
So we were back on the road again but before too long we were in Halle – birthplace of my Mum’s favourite composer – George Frideric Handel.
Fortunately we found a car park where we could free camp amongst circus vehicles, trucks and one other camper van.
Halle has some truly magnificent buildings but we were shocked to see how much graffiti there was everywhere.
Walking around the town we felt very moved to see on the exterior wall of the Cathedral, a memorial for the East German uprising of 1953 which was violently suppressed by tanks of the Soviet forces.
After finding the “Handel Haus” where Handel was born in 1685, we found ourselves near the Domplatz (cathedral square) where a kind of Christmas market was set up in the grounds of what was once a monastery. Because of Covid there was nothing actually on sale but there were plenty of Christmas trees, baubles and other festive decorations in little huts. Each hut was decorated differently – we weren’t sure if it was a competition or just different interpretations of Christmas decorating but it was fun to experience a bit of pre-Christmas festivity.
A couple of hours drive out of Halle we arrived at the border of the Czech Republic. As soon as we crossed the border we saw snow! Great big piles of it by the roadside and all the trees were sparkling in the weak sunshine. It looked very Christmassy!
We stopped to buy our motorway “vignette” just over the border and were hoping to fill up with water but the promised taps were switched off because of the extreme cold (to prevent burst pipes.)
We weren’t too worried as we were still had enough left for that day and we were bound to find somewhere to fill up again in Prague where we were heading next.
Alas! Absolutely all the camping places in and around Prague that we had picked as potential spots to spend the night were closed. We ended up parking near the Zoo car park (not actually in it as there was a police car parked in there).
We were underneath a steep hill with what looked like a lonely monastery on top and close by a very austere and creepy house was the only sign of habitation.
The great thing about a van is you can pull all the blinds down and you could be anywhere! Once you sit down to a good meal in the cosy and warm atmosphere you can forget the world outside.
We drove through the outskirts of Prague the following morning and the impressive buildings we passed gave us a hint of what a glorious city it is. We will definitely be back!
We still hadn’t filled up with water. This was a worry as we were almost running out of the most essential of resources.
Jonathan turned to the Internet to research for a solution. One of the very helpful websites for people travelling in a van mentioned a tap in a village just over the border in Austria.
A few hours later we were at a very small border crossing and were stopped by a very forlorn and extremely cold soldier who asked us our purpose for visiting Austria.
Bearing in mind that Austria was in complete lockdown, we were a little anxious that we might get turned round but when we told him we were looking to fill up with water he waved us through with as much cheer as could be mustered when standing in the freezing cold!
We found the small village of Wolfsthal quite easily, we even found the tap but sadly it was switched off!
Our only option was to keep going to the nearest town – Hainburg an der Donau and hope we could find water there.
As we drove towards the town we were interested to see a massive castle perched on top of the hill. The original was built in the 11th Century AD and it was destroyed in 1683 by the Ottomans but rebuilt in 1709. We wished we could go and look round it but of course it was closed.
Hainburg an der Donau was a lovely town with a 13th Century gate – the largest existing medieval gate in Europe. It also has a 2.5 km long town wall and a total of 15 towers!
The town also happened to have a small fuel station with a very friendly manager who kindly agreed to let us fill up with water much to our relief.
In the meantime, the local post office van nipped in front of us and blocked access to the tap. We had to wait for ages while the post woman sorted out the post she had collected at the garage.
By the time we had filled up it was getting quite dark and we set off in search of somewhere to stay the night.
First we headed for the nearby river, thinking there would be a car park or somewhere else suitable there.
We ended up travelling along a very narrow lane through a deserted area of farmland. It didn’t seem to promising so we headed for a sports centre – a good option that we have used in the past when we have had no luck finding somewhere to stop.
This one was by a pretty pond and was surrounded by fields so we had a very peaceful and quiet sleep before heading onwards towards Turkey.