Our campsite is about 8km outside the town. It’s a truly lovely site with huge pitches. We are still getting away without electrical hookup and are no longer worried about every watt – mothership electrical systems are just fine – no ‘Main Bus B Undervolt’ for us (sorry, you may need to be a bit of a geek for that one).
We took a long detour to come back to Apeldoorn, just a stone’s throw from Utrecht (well, 40km, but who’s counting?) The reason for this is that we discovered a really cool primate park called Apenheul, which tries to present various primates large and small without barriers. Many of the smaller primates just wander around the visitors.
Even where it would not be safe (for the apes or humans!) to mix, the park employs clever barriers to make it seem as though you are with the Apes. The highlight of the day was seeing the gorillas up close. We were in the front row and the only thing separating us from six bloody great apes was 20 feet of water. None of the primates like water much and it’s an effective barrier between species and in this case us! More than half the species are free to roam among the visitors. It was a wonderful day.
The Apenheul has a greater mission too: It’s a non profit organisation and all profits raised are invested in primate research and conservation programmes across the world.
Nearby the Apenheul are public gardens, Park Berg en Bos, including a pretty spectacular wooden tower with a great view of the surrounding forest.
We arrive in Bremerhaven quite late in the day and the Motor home aire is already full. Not a great sign for our first German stopover. But there are camper-vans in the marina car park just over the road, so we go and park over there while we work out what to do. The Germans parked in a camper next to us tell us that the workers that came to clean up had told them that overnight parking is not forbidden, so we decide to just stay where we are. We cycle along the seafront and visit the German Submarine U2540, Wilhem Bauer, our main reason (Toby!) for coming to Bremerhaven.
Back to the Mothership late afternoon to discover that a) there are now about ten motor homes sharing the car-park with us and b) there are lots of German ‘kids’ in modified BMW, Audi and VW converging on the car park. It’s getting louder!
We have dinner and watch a movie. More cars show up – the party is just getting started. We watch another movie and turn in at midnight. By this time there are not too many cars left, but the last one doesn’t go until after 2 AM – they were no trouble at all, just loud! In the morning we notice that all but one of the other camper-vans had gone too – guess they didn’t like the company!
Anyway, by the time we get up, the Camping Platz over the road has spaces – so we shift the mothership over there. The ticket machine doesn’t work properly and the less than helpful attendant is crap, but we get it worked out and head into town. We visit the maritime museum. Most impressive is the new VR experience which details the German Arctic explorer vessel, Polastern. We spend an hour watching some VR video. It’s really cool. We explore two other ships and cycle down to the shipping terminal to see the observation tower made from shipping containers. We fit in a great lunch and that’s the day done!
Our first experience with a bike parking garage! What a great idea and for up to a day, it’s also free. It’s actually painless, so we don’t really understand why there are so many bikes up on the street when there is a problem with bike thefts in Utrecht. At the door, the attendant puts one of those tamper evident stickers on the bike and gives you a little keyfob. You don’t get the bike back without the keyfob. Simples! And you keep the fob and sticker attached for your next visit. We have not yet worked out if it is a national system and we can keep the same sticker and fob for Amsterdam.
Actually, bike theft has been something we thought about in the last few towns. Many of the bike locks are pretty rudimentary, so we wondered if theft was an issue. Its the first time anyone mentioned it – the Utrecht campsite reception told us that theft is a big problem in town, so told us to use the parking garage.
The campsite is fine. It’s in a park/sports complex and looks out over a lake. There are many geese that make the campsite their home, so watch out for goose poop ( A rake is provided!) There are plenty of parking spots away from the lake, but we figure that a little bit of goose shit is a fine price to pay for looking over the lake.
The site has very mixed reviews – There are many cabins around the site which are very run-down. It’s clear that they are gradually being re-roofed and refurbished, but some reviewers don’t seem happy with this. Toby likes abandoned buildings, so he probably would have happily paid extra to nestle among the yet-to-be-completed buildings!
It’s a surprise that people are surprised by the campsite – it’s been like this for a long time and has a clue in the name – Budget Camping Utrecht. We almost always research each campsite carefully – we look at google maps so we know what direction we are approaching from and if there are likely to be any narrow roads or low bridges, so we have a rough idea of the area and a campsite like this sticks out a mile on google maps – it’s clear to see the roofless buildings.
Anyway, enough about the domestic arrangements! Utrecht is the last stop before Amsterdam. We have been thrashing around across the country a little to make sure that we had been in Gouda for the Cheese market. Now we can chill out for the weekend.
We arrive on Friday nice and early and get set up and get on the bikes to the town centre. The main thing we want to get done today is the Dom and the Speelklok museum. Both are fab! Toby found the Speelklok museum through a you-tuber that he follows: Wintergartan. Mechanical music machines, some of them of epic proportions. Great stuff!
Next day and it’s a long cycle ride out to the new military museum and a ride in a tracked troop transporter. T attempt to get a look at Enigma memorabilia failed again. This museum is supposed to have a copy of one of the German code books that were used for the daily machine settings, but no sign of it 🙁
We arrived in Porto Ercole and immediately found that the ‘open all year’ aire was shut until March. Great. The other formal locations that appeared in our apps were all shut so we resorted to car parks where overnight stopping was – if not formally allowed – then at least not prohibited. We found a secluded spot outside Porto Ercole at the top of a steep hill and through the main town (which has no campervan signs!) The app told us that a campervan had stopped only a few nights previous. Although it was just by the road, the road only lead to the secluded and uninhabited end of the island, and we had a very quiet night. IT was also really dark – it was odd to have no light of any kind nearby.
Next morning and T got in a couple of drone flights over the sea and then it was off for the next stop on the hike towards Rome.
Our first stop in Italy and it was a day of compromises on the journey from St Tropez. We have had loads of warnings about the awful Italian roads: Narrow, windy, and full of bad drivers. And we already knew that the coast road from St Tropez to Monaco was not going to be fun in a big camper. So today, for pretty much the first time in five months, we had Sally set to allow toll roads.
On the A8 we sped past the major French towns of Cannes, Nice and the Principality of Monaco. This was fine for us – we visited many years ago and found the opulence kind of vulgar really, so we didn’t miss them. Maybe another trip when we have more time and inclination, we’ll see how the Côte d’Azur has changed in the 30 years since we last visited!
So 30 Euros later we arrive at the village near the campsite and it’s narrow and bumpy straight away – not a great omen for Italy. But there are big campervans in the same campsite as us, so we shrug it off.
A lovely van built pizza and we also enjoy a little satellite TV.
The site at Campersite Nervia is almost empty – it’s a 50 pitch campsite with a few statics too and there are about 6 other campervans. It’s not great weather and it starts pissing down so no exploring the first night. The campsite is throwing a very loud birthday party too in it’s large function room so we sing along to the mainly English language hits until the early hours.
The next day we had a lay in and then went out for a stroll down the seaside about 500 meters away and through the town. The promenade hosts a weekly car boot sale with tons of interesting junk to look at.
The only bummer on the day was that the whole town is littered with dog muck. Maybe there is not a law in Italy – we’ll keep you posted!
We arrived at Montpellier and a proper camp site for the next three nights. We arrived after a long drive (not many km, but still very windy so took a few hours) and got settled on the site. The colder weather and the long drives hit us both and we both lost the next day to ‘sniffles’. Interesting as we only commented to each other a few days previously that we have not really had cold/flu since leaving blighty and we both suffer a few times a year normally. Also, it was great to have a long shower again rather than the 10 litres or so that the motorhome dishes out!
The campsite is about 8km outside town and there is a tram station very close by. So on day two we went into town and wandered around both the old and the new town. Lunch was a burger from an independent chain and was delicious! There is some amazing architecture in Montpellier as the few photos hopefully show!
In the evening it was a test fitting the snow chains. We obviously never want to use them, but having them on board is mandatory on some Italian roads. They were pretty confusing but we got them fitted (and removed) after about half an hour. Snowchains: Tick.
We also had a surreal half an hour in a shopping centre. There is a major refurbishment underway, but the centre is still open – cables hanging down everywhere, exposed girders, rough cut girder ends. There are even pipes coming up through the floor in the middle of the gents toilets.
On a whim we tried the switching satellite system back to Astra 28.2E as we are now pretty north compared with southern Spain – and we have (briefly) a full suite of UK TV channels again. Cool. We’ve been paying for them, but not getting them! A few UK shows later and we were binged out. BTW – we has a different Satellite selected so we could watch the F1 on a Free-to-Air channel last year! Satellite TV when abroad is a real pain….
The next day and it was a midday departure for Marseille. No special research lead to Marseille, but we are having problems locating open campsites or Aires in the south of France!
From Valencia, it was one big drive up to Barcelona. We arrived quite late at the ‘City Stop’ to find that it was no longer operating. It was a lorry park with an area set aside for motorhomes – similar to Merida and some other larger towns we have stayed in. The lorry park was still operating, but the pretty nasty security guard would not even let us turn around or stop five minutes to plug the backup location into Sally. There was plenty of room, we were stopped in a turning area, but he shooed us out and stood preventing us even turning around, so we had to reverse out onto a busy street. Great! We then sat in front of the gates for ten minutes while we sorted out the satnav for the backup – so dunno what the silly arse gained 😉
The backup location was right on the other side of town, and it was now dark. Sally didn’t care and we drove right through the middle of Barcelona. It has an interesting road layout – grid system like many US towns and with mainly one way roads.
Our first day exploring was the Sagrada Sagrada Família (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sagrada_Fam%C3%ADlia) and a ramble down La Rambla taking in the market. It was our most expensive day out since leaving home. The Sagrada Familia tickets were 72 euros and with the metro tickets and a 60 euro meal – the needle was truly bent against the peg on the budget!
We had already visited the Sagrada Familia before – on a day trip from Tarragona with Charlie a few years ago. But we didn’t have the time to look inside that trip. This time we did and were amazed. What a fabulous building. Gaudi was very clever – he made iterative changes to the original design and it was really interesting to see in the museum the original design plus the four main designs leading to the present building.
Gaudi was also very clever in the way that the building was delivered in stages. He wanted to ensure that the building could operate while still being built. The present plan is for it to be complete by 2026 – the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death by tram car!
Day three was the Poble Espanyol de Montjuic, which is a kind of outdoor architectural museum. It comprises around 50 building each in a unique Spanish style. It also had an art gallery, so we got to see some more art – some Picasso ceramics!
That was about it for Barcelona – we need to get some km behind us on the race to Rome!
So, from the very unwelcoming Calpe we arrived at the wonderful town of Moraira. The free camping stop was a large tarmac car-park. There were perhaps 20 campervans here all in a far corner out of the way. It was dark when we got here after a couple of false starts (thanks Sally Satnav!) leaving Calpe. Believe it or not this is the first time that we had driven the mothership at night properly. It was fine – we were worried that our hundred year old eyes would miss important traffic signals, but it was no hassle at all. Anyway, no exploring that evening as it was late.
Up early the next day and we did a lap of the town in a couple of hours including a pair of the most delicious croissants we can recall eating. It’s really easy to forget that Eroski, Carrefour and Mercadonia are really convenient and pretty good value, but not always so tasty. Today’s lesson – don’t forget the local producers!
We whiled away an hour at the Marina with T teaching S the three or four things that he thinks he knows about boats and then back to Mothership for the long drive up the coast road to Valencia. We stayed off the main autovia as this is one of the few areas in Spain where there are toll roads.
We mentioned before that we have some long driving legs ahead. Neither of us much fancy this part of Spain – so we know we will be missing lots of wonderful towns, but we are getting behind schedule, so it’s the big stuff along the coast now…