Dover to Gallo, 20th August to 25th August
England to Holland (via France and Belgium)
The Traveling Circus has arrived on The Continent.
Our ferry trip from Dover to Calais was completely and totally uneventful. With barely time to down my coffee and corral the children en mass to the toilet, my plans to stock up on duty free essentials; perfume, chocolate and hard liquor were thwarted by the announcement we were to beat a hasty retreat back to bowels of the boat and ensconce ourselves in our vehicle ready for arrival en France.
Praise be to all things Schengen – which I believe is short for ‘come on in, drive anywhere you want, we don’t bother with anything as pesky as a passport check’. Shorter still for ‘why on earth did you bother to bust a poofer valve ringing the ferry company from the side of the freeway on the way to Dover to book unhealthily expensive return tickets in case the powers that be in France wouldn’t let you in to their fair land without proof you were going to leave within the requisite 90 days’. Oh no, all things Schengen meant we were off the ferry, onto the right hand side of the road and unceremoniously sucked into the motorway vortex heading to Brussels. Nary a boom gate nor a ‘bienvenue’. I must say I had much higher expectations France.
Thankfully we’ve managed to cloud our less than exciting arrival with the quasi excitement of pretending to “visit” four countries in 12 hours!
Holland to ……
We are in the tiniest slither of Holland, wedged between Belgium and Germany. Four countries and one day in to this road trip and we have conceded defeat!
Yesterday started well but ended a bleeding mess. Tired, hungry children, stressed, angry grown-ups, traveling on the wrong road for an hour and having to travel back for another hour, constantly thinking (and offering up the helpful advice) to STAY-the-hell-to-the-RIGHT, discovering our phones have no data left, our map is crap, we have no game plan (other than to drive) was all topped off by the joyless experience of trying to find a place to stay last night.
If there ever comes a time you’re driving through, let’s for shits and giggles say Holland, and you start thinking to yourself ‘this isn’t working for me anymore, my entire family is about to self combust, i might just pull into this well populated little town along the motorway and keep-my-eye-out for a caravan park’. Don’t bother.
Caravan parks in Europe, unlike Australia, are not dotted along the highway like cheap hookers. Oh no siree, you got to know where those babies are hiding. And hiding they are. If you’re really fortunate you’ll get lost, end up miles from where you need to be, stop off at a petrol station, borrow their map book to ask directions from someone who doesn’t speak English, by chance spy a tiny tent symbol within the vicinity of where you’re supposed to be heading but doesn’t look like an even remotely populated area and by the grace of all things holy actually remember which exit it was at. After driving in circles for about 2 hours, via Aldi and a road side stop to try and top up your phone credit, you may pass the caravan park in question about five times, stupidly looking for an understated patch of grass with a few tents, a reception building and a toilet block on it (as one would expect from such a non-ostentatious tent symbol), rather than the lake side leisure park complex complete with 400 tent sites (pitches in Euro speak) and 200 cabins, enormous water slides, giant ropes course, boating lake, cycling tracks, golf course, restaurant and bar that is in fact your required destination.
At which point I challenge you not to throw your hands in the air, pay the guy at the gate taking cash (and only cash) from late arrivals (dodgy much?!), buy beer and in the morning elevate yourself to Father of the Year by turning up at breakfast with bread, milk, another nights accommodation booked and all day tickets to the water slide park.
Go on. I dare you!
We’ll be in Holland today. We will not be completing our seven countries in three days challenge. The small people and Father of the Year will be by the pool. I’ll be doing laundry and tidying. That’s how it rolls around here.
Holland to Denmark (via Germany)
Today we wanted to stay at Dutch Budget Club Med forever. They have a kids club and pools and very efficient washing machines. What’s not to like.
Today nobody wanted to get in the car. Not one body.
Today the big girls fought with each other pretty much every minute their mouths weren’t full of food.
Today Peach screamed about her pants falling down, her undies riding up, the music being too loud, her top being too hot, her feet being too cold, the conversations being too boring, the snacks not being plentiful enough, the wind being too windy, the sun being too sunny, the air being too…. i don’t even know what….. I’d given up listening by then.
Today we missed the exit that would have had us bypass Hamburg and we ended up driving halfway to Lubeck to get back on track. Oh the irony, if we’d kept going we would have ended up at the ferry to Denmark and we could have been in Sweden by lunch time tomorrow. Instead we went North, miles out of our way and then topped off the experience by driving into a 20km black hole, trying to get groceries. It took us no less than three hours to get off the highway and back on again.
Today we thought we’d be driving for eight hours (which was stretching the friendship) but we actually drove for thirteen hours.
Today as we drove through the back roads in Denmark we realised we hadn’t put the Euro-lights on the headlights correctly and got flashed at least 167 times for having our lights on high beam. We spent about two hours petrified we’d be pulled over by the police.
Today we arrived at our caravan park in Denmark. It was pre-booked, pre-paid and pre-arranged that we’d arrive at 10pm. We arrived at 10.10pm.
Today we ate dinner at 10.30pm and slept in the van, ACROSS THE ROAD from the locked caravan park.
Lego lovers, hold onto your small plastic helmets. I will post details of our Legoland experience separately. When I can find the cord to the camera.
Denmark to Sweden
A life time ago I took an organised coach tour, in which a veritable trove of tourist destinations were experienced from the window of the bus. Eiffel Tower – tick. Leaning Tower – tick. Arc d’ Triumph – tick….. There no way known to man a tour company could cram so many sights AND so much heavy drinking into the one itinerary without a lot of window sightseeing. At the time it felt like a totally acceptable way to see the world and only years later did I feel any kind of regret at not spending my money more wisely on something like, a week heavy drinking and sightseeing, in one location, so I could really get to know the place.
Today I felt like we were right back there ticking tourist destinations off a mile a minute without leaving the (ahem) comfort of our vehicle. The heavy drinking was somewhat curtailed, not that the thought didn’t cross my mind, but the tick list was similar. Copengagen – tick. Hans Christian Andersen – tick. Biggest bridges in the world – tick.
In many ways it feels really wasteful to have come this far and not actually stop and enjoy some of amazing things each of the cities and towns we pass through offer, especially when so many of our friends dream of having the time and the means to do a trip like this. Racing through every town and city is certainly counter intuitive to the journey not the destination manifesto I usually try to live my life by. But the truth is the greater part of this journey is not about the journey at all (because lord knows journeying with three kids is not that much fun). It is totally and completely about the destination.
Actively avoiding getting out of the car, lining up, paying the admission fees, reading the information plaques, buying the post cards, telling the kids they can’t buy another piece of plastic tourist crap means we can get to where we’re going faster. It means we can enjoy a long stretch of time immersed in living a different culture. It means ticking off less but deeply experiencing more.
So today we powered through Denmark to Sweden, ticking off sights as we passed them in the car. Between you and me there’s no way I’d be ticking either of those bridges off my list any way other than from the window of the car. But I was secretly a bit gutted to have to merely point at the biggest Ikea in the world as we came over the boarder into Sweden.
Sweden, Sweden and a little bit more Sweden
As we left our campground immediately after breakfast it dawned on us that the final stretch was possibly going to be the longest of all. When your friends says ‘we’re about six hours North of Stockholm’ that means you have a lot’a lot’a lot’a driving to do. Especially if you’ve spent the night about two hours South of Stockholm. With the requisite 15 toilet stops and 2 trips around the car to secure some kind of blanket or jumper in the window to stop the sun, we were in for yet another LONG day.
And so we drove North. And North. And North. And Norther. Past moose fences and moose signs and Ikeas and moose fence and moose signs. And nope, we never did see a moose. It was a long, boring day.
Finally after what seemed like forever, we arrived at the ferry that would take us to our friends island (i know right!), just in time to watch the sun dip below the tree line of the forest and throw pink light across the lake.
In that moment we knew every missed exit and 20km black hole. Every argument or whinge emanating from the back of the car. Every skin of our teeth arrival at a camp ground or lunch on the side of the highway. Every minute and millimeter traveled was worth going through so we could spend two weeks in this Nordic heaven.