Bourtange, The Netherlands

East, east and a bit more east. So close to Germany, we could spit over the border.  And in fact, the route sally took saw us on 40km of Germany motorway, so we have already fitted in another country!  Remember folks a world without borders is wonderful!

Bourtange is about 1km inside The Netherlands and is a fortress town dating back to the time when the Spaniards controlled the area.  It’s a classic 5 pointed star when viewed from above – as design that can be seen all over the Netherlands.

It doesn’t take long to look around – It’s a tiny town and most buildings are part of the museum.  So our day was mainly a chill out. It was our 26th Wedding anniversary so we decided to take it easy apart for a quick drone flight.

Chamonix, France

We are back in France for the third time this trip!  It was wonderful to drive up the foothills of the alps to the approach of the Mont Blanc tunnel and it was awesome to be driving the Alps during the winter.

Our first surprise was the price! We had researched it as about 65€, but the Italian cashier cheerfully told us that as we are over 3M tall, it was 165€.  Bril. Not much we could do about it – it would have cost us ages to head back down and around.

That was not the only surprise – we left Italy on a very mild winter day and arrived in Francais 12km later to a very cold snowy day!  The campsite is about 4km along the main route from Chamonix, so we got to the campsite and hunkered down.

Although we wanted to go into Chamonix proper, the visibility was low so we decided to give it a miss.

Next morning there was a blanket of fresh snow, probably only a couple of cm. Not surprising, the roads were all freshly salted/gritted, so even though it was minus 2, all the roads – even the tiny little road that the campsite is on were all fine.  Time for a few photos and then hit the road – time for another country!


A typical free stopover and a little about how campervans work

Just in case anyone is interested and doesn’t know already, this is what a typical facilities are like at a freebie stopover.  In the UK it’s hard to understand that anything would be freely given, but in Europe this is very common. Of course, there are lots of stopovers which are not free and we are also staying on formal campsites too, but this is just an indication.

This stopover is in Castello de Paiva in Portugal and is on the corner of a very large market square.

The mechanics of the facilities are really straightforward, but we can still remember how daunting it seemed and how much complex stuff there was to remember when we hired our first campervan six or seven years ago.

The grating that you can see under the mothership is for grey water – this is the water from the sink, shower and washbasin.  There is a hundred litre holding tank and a big tap inside the mothership that dumps this water, so we just need to park over the grating and open the tap.

The metal drain cover with a sort of star shape in the top is for black water. That means the toilet cassette!  Our toilet is a Thetford unit – which is a really common brand. It has a removable tank that you can carry to the disposal point.  It holds about 20 litres. You add a chemical to the cassette each time you empty it and that helps to control the odour and to break down the contents a bit!  Sounds yeuchy but you soon get used to it! It’s best to use cheap brands of toilet paper in cassette toilets to make sure it breaks down easily.

The pillar on the left of the picture contains two taps – one is for fresh water and has a screw fitting.  We have a hundred litre tank on board and a hose dedicated for drinking water to fill up. Across Europe there are a couple of different sizes so we have some brass adapters which convert the different screw threads to a hozelock connector.  

On the other side of the pillar is a press tap for rinsing the toilet cassette. This separation is important and the tap for rinsing does not have a connector so in theory no mistakes can be made.  In practice when we are filling the fresh tank, we wipe the tap down first and we flush the first few litres away to make sure we are getting fresh water.

We tend to travel with the freshwater tank full.  There are two schools of thought. Obviously this loses efficiency – its 100 Kilos, but we are often not on hookup and sometime (like in Porto) in locations where there are no facilities at all, so we prefer the efficiency cost and the peace of mind that we are self sufficient.

When we are off-grid, the limiting factor is the loo – 20 litres does not go very far 😉  We have an extra toilet cassette but we left it in the UK – we didn’t think we would need it for this trip.  We may need to revisit that decision!

To locate the stopovers, we have a few tools.  Often there are signs at the side of the road indicating a motorhome dropoff.  We have smartphone apps from a couple of suppliers and a big ‘Camperstop’ book.

Once we research a few days of places to go and things to see, the camperstop network is the next thing we check.

Here you can see the grey water grate, the black water drain cover and the fresh water and rinse water pillar on the left.

Mothership II

Mothership II or ‘Eff Off’ as Selina has christened her (EF18OVV so it does make some sense) is a Dethleffs Alpa. The Alpa is a cracking layout that has a large garage, but still has a rear lounge. It has a big bathroom and twin fixed beds over the cab. It’s a tall beast with a double floor – meaning plenty of storage, good insulation and plenty of carrying capacity. The compromise is no dinette, but we worked out that in three years we only used the old one for additional food prep.

There are three alpas in the range – ours is the ‘baby’ alpa. It’s a lot more cost effective then the next model up and we have used the savings to have various upgrades fitted based on advice from other alpa owners.

The Alpa is meant as a couples luxury tourer and has only two belted seats as standard, but we think that’s a little selfish, so ours has two extra ‘jump seats’ fitted in the rear lounge. This costs some under seat storage but means that we can move family and friends when we need to!

This is one advantage of buying new – extra seat belts can’t be fitted as an aftermarket option due to safety reasons, so they have to be ordered from new.

We have seen ‘baby’ Alpas both new and used and have never yet seen the jump seats fitted, so we knew that we would be buying new to get the layout we wanted.

In terms of spec, she has twin leisure batteries and twin solar panels. Dethleffs have an inverter option as part of the enhanced electrical package, but it was £4K so we couldn’t justify that.

We have the Gaslow twin refillable system fitted so we should be good for cheap LPG on the trip.

There are a few bits and pieces like air suspension, awning, tow bar, external gas point etc, but we’ll go into that another time!

Mothership is (unexpectedly) an Automatic. Neither of us like autos and we ordered a manual, but having taken her for a spin, we think it will be fine. The automatic box fitted to the Alpa is an Iveco unit and it’s actually a manual box with a added servo shift mechanism and clutch rather than a viscous coupling. More on the Mothership soon. Hopefully less than two weeks to go before we pick her up!