D. Gorton and Jane Adams take a Tonke demountable truck camper through northern Europe and navigate the narrow streets, run the autobahns, discover the camping culture, and delight in the rich cuisine.
It was September 2015. Jane and I were traveling on the German autobahn. I had a white-knuckle grip on the wheel of a Mercedes diesel Sprinter loaded with a Dutch made Tonke demountable truck camper.
We were driving north from Holland to our first “campingplatz” in Worpswede, Germany. We were making tracks for Copenhagen, where we would camp and visit relatives, then enjoy a leisurely trip back to Holland along the Wadden Sea. Always game for new experiences, the autobahn was testing my resolve.
Before we left the States, Steve Blackman, an acquaintance in Great Britain whom I met through RV.Net, had schooled me on European driving. But nothing had quite prepared me for the challenge of driving the 7,500 pound, 25-foot long Tonke truck camper on narrow European streets and bustling highways.
I was bewildered when we drove through the streets of Terheijden, Netherlands, after we picked up the Tonke. The urban intersections with lanes for bikes, pedestrians and cars were totally unfamiliar.
The autobahn was in a league by itself. Unlike US freeways, the right lane is reserved for large trucks with a speed limit of 80 KPH (54 MPH). Most of the autobahn we took, A1, has no speed limit in the left lane, something Steve had warned me about.
I was shaken when a Mercedes passed us at over 180 KPH (115 mph) practically blowing my doors off. It came up so fast that I did not see the sedan approaching. It seemed that a constant procession of Mercedes, BMWs, Porches, and Audis flew by at light-warp speeds, along with an occasional BMW or Ducati motorcycle.
We planned to explore northern Europe the way we travel in our American truck camper – a vintage 1967 Avion on a Ford F350 – taking back roads, stopping when we please, even reversing course on a whim. We sought to buy our food locally and prepare it onboard. We also aimed to be as frugal as possible. Northern European cities are quite pricey.
Our decision to travel in late September and early October was a calculated gamble. The weather can change dramatically that time of year. But, it would be the beginning of the “off season” when prices are lower, campgrounds less-crowded, and the museums aren’t packed. As it turned out, we had absolutely gorgeous weather for the entire trip – 70s during the day and 50s in the evening.
Months prior to the trip we had been in touch with Maarten van Soest, the builder of the impossibly beautiful hand-made Tonke truck camper. The Tonke Classic Silverline that we were renting is known in Europe as a “demountable” camper. We met Maarten on a Saturday morning at the Tonke shops in Terheijden, Netherlands.
Warned that German grocery markets are closed on Sunday, Maarten’s wife took Jane to the local Albert Heijin grocery store where she bought wonderful breads, cheeses, fruits, meats, yogurt (the best I had ever tasted) and wines. She quickly learned that bags are not supplied. At checkout she purchased sturdy plastic bags that folded neatly into her purse.
Maarten showed us the Tonke and helped us put away our things. We signed rental papers, produced our Illinois drivers license, as well as the International drivers license that we received from AAA. Then got a tour of the coach.
It turned out that Europeans bring all of their cutlery, bedclothes, towels, etc. when they rent an RV. Since we were coming from overseas, we could not carry any camping gear. So there was a lot of last minute packing as Maarten and his wife searched for pots and pans.
Above: Maarten is over 6 feet tall and the camper fits him perfectly. Jane is getting a tour of the coach.
We were delighted to have the Tonke truck camper. We’re not aficionados of group tours, where you are herded from place to place in a world of limited choices and high prices. Even on your own, European travel is expensive, especially when you’re too old for back packing and hostels, and want to eat real meals. In comparison, despite the challenge of learning new driving skills, truck camping is liberating.
We made most of our arrangements through the internet before we left home in Illinois. We found desirable campgrounds, recorded their coordinates and, where possible, made reservations on-line. Then, as we travelled, we fed the coordinates into our TomTom GPS which we had loaded with the Western Europe map. With the TomTom GPS, we could wander the city streets and rural roads secure in the knowledge that we would reach our destination.
Before we left I actually previewed some of the roads and towns with Google Earth’s Street View. However, since the TomTom always seeks to find the quickest route, persistently rerouting us to the autobahns and large highways, we often used hard copy maps to navigate through the countryside.
We passed the lightly marked border between Holland and Germany and arrived at Hammerhofen Worpswede campingplatz, north of Bremen, late in the evening. We exited the cab and turned the lock on the Tonke. It didn’t budge. Jane tried it. No luck. I tried again. The Tonke had the most elaborate locks I had ever encountered, with three bolts going through the side door. I jiggled and jiggled as the darkness gathered. We almost despaired when suddenly the locks released. I was happy. Jane was even happier.
There were showers and toilets at a central office, but no hook ups in the field where we camped. The campingplatz cost was US$30.
Morning came with a thick fog. I arose early and walked down the lane near our camp. It looked like an old master painting.
Young people were already boating on the old canal that curls by the camp. The canal had been built to drain the area – part of the coastal region of northwest Europe known as the Low Countries.
We talked to the director of Hammerhofen, Rolf Soujon, about camping in Germany. He explained that the largest crowds were in July when most families have 5-6 weeks of “holiday”. There are literally thousands of camping places across Germany with farmers opening up their lawns on occasion.
Many European campers use the Reisemobil International guide that has an exhaustive list of camps and RV parks. According to Rolf, many people travel without reservations, relying on the Reisemobil phone app to seek accommodations at the last minute. However, the Reisemobil has no English version, and neither of us are fluent in German.
We paid when we left the camp, which is customary. We then traveled a short distance to the town center of Worpswede. Jane would let out a whoop when she thought I was too close to a roadside sign or tree limb. I got a bit frazzled.
We toured Barkenhoff, the home of artist and designer Heinrich Vogeler from the 1890s to 1931, when he fled the Nazis. The home is now restored as a museum with original artwork by Vogeler and period furnishings. Vogeler attracted artists to the village and, today, over 130 artists and craftsmen live there permanently.
Watching carefully overhead, I tenderly nosed the Tonke into a German ESSO station to fill up the fuel tanks. I understood that the gas stations would take Visa and Mastercard, but one never knows until you swipe the card. Some require a pin number identification which we had obtained before we left the US. It worked! My first top-up of diesel cost $74.27.
As we drove on a rural road outside Worpswede, we saw an ancient thatched roof barn. True to our truck camper traveling style, we hit the brakes. Above the barn door was the legend, “Dieses haus steht in Gottes Hand…Bauherr Johann Berken …1856”. “This house is in God’s Hand”.
I was pleased that I was becoming comfortable with European driving. With our truck camper we drive everywhere – and that was becoming true on this trip.
Our destination for the evening was campingplatz Am Deich, on Fehmarn Island overlooking an arm of the Baltic Sea. We had made internet reservations on the nearby Scandines ferry to Denmark at Puttsgarden, Germany for the following morning.
We drove north to Am Deich on narrow country roads lined with groomed birch trees. The roads ran through beautiful, carefully tended, though uninhabited farmland. Every few kilometers a tidy village appeared, with brick barns and brick houses in the center of the settlement.
We approached Am Deich campingplatz following small signs and relying on our GPS. The road was so narrow we had to pull over to allow other motorists and trucks to pass. At the campground, the host directed us to a site just behind the dike facing the brisk and windy sea under rows of conifer trees. The nearest campers were a hundred yards or so down the lane.
It was the evening of a lunar eclipse, the “Blood Moon”, and we hoped that clear weather on the coast would allow us to see this remarkable phenomenon.
We were very comfy inside the wonderfully warm Tonke with its Truma heater. The Dutch and their regard for light was evident as the late afternoon sun bounced from the Tonke’s mahogany walls and sky blue table tops. I was reminded of Franz Halls and Vermeer and their glowing paintings.
We weren’t exactly “glamping” but it was mighty close.
Around 7:00 pm, we watched the full moon rise from the sea. We turned in early.
Above: The moon rise before the eclipse
We awakened at 4:00 am, dressed warmly, and clambered to the top of the dike, facing into the blustery sea. Endless clouds of stars shone in the jet black skies, punctuated by an occasional meteor streaking across the horizon. Ducks and geese resting in marshes behind us quacked and honked drowsily. Large waves crashed into the rock and seaweed covered beach.
The eclipse slowly revealed the Blood Moon.
Above: The lunar eclipse reveals the jet black sky and stars while the sunlight passing through the earth’s atmosphere turns the moon red.
In the morning we had an early reservation for the ferry at Puttsgarden, so we breakfasted around dawn and moved out at 7:00 am.
The gate was padlocked.
We looked for someone to help. Around 7:30, a workman arrived. He spoke no English and we spoke very little German. He pointed to the opening time – 8:00 a.m. Offering money for our stay, we made plaintive, beseeching noises.
Finally, with an exaggerated look at this watch, he opened the gate at precisely 8:00 am. We hurriedly placed our camping fee with him and left. A short way down the road we met the operator of the camp who flagged us down to find out if we had paid. Though he didn’t speak English we convinced him that money was left behind.
Lesson learned: in Germany there are rules and they WILL be enforced!
We skedaddled to the Ferry driving the narrow country lanes like a German, which is to say, very quickly. Though deep in the countryside, allees of birch trees lined the road. We saw magpies fluttering and an occasional stork.
We just made the Scandines ferry crossing from Puttsgarden to Rodby, Denmark. The breezy ride takes about an hour depending on weather. The cost is US $98. Though we saw a much heavier presence of border control on the Danish side, we were waved through.
With the advice of our family members, we had reserved a site at Charlottelund Fort about 7 KM north of Copenhagen. It’s the site of a 19th Century battlement that defended the Port of Copenhagen. The 12 “haubits” cannon are still in place overlooking the Oresund, the strait that separates Sweden and Denmark. There are good beaches and a large park on the water.
Above: The camping area is surrounded by the old fort with 19th century cannon still in place.
We had chosen a spot near the entrance to the campground that was convenient to the restrooms, kitchen, and bathhouse. It also had a very strong WIFI signal. We were lucky that our iPhone and iPad connected to the WIFI effortlessly. However, our iPhone did not work even though I had paid Verizon a hefty fee for service in Europe. It may be that you have to switch SIM cards to activate the phone system. Since I use my handheld to stay in touch with workmen by text, it was a serious issue. I wound up emailing a friend who then transferred texts. Not a good solution.
Above: The Tonke is in the foreground. Just a short way to the restroom and dining area.
The campground, open from March to October, lies in the interior of the old fort. Camping for our Tonke was 60 Kroner (US$8.50). Each person was charged an additional 100 Kroner (US$14). Our fee could change depending on electrical use and other services, but the daily camping fee was around US$32. Amazing.
The bathhouse and kitchens, which are built into the old fort’s casements, are accessed through a provided smart card. If you take longer than 4 minutes with the hot water, the shower it is cut off, as I learned. You have to go outside, dripping wet, and swipe your card again with an extra charge.
We were pleasantly surprised to see several cooking areas with gas burners and large tables inside the facility. We saw large family groups gathered for evening meals cooked on the cooktops. After meals we, like other campers, brought our dirty dishes and washed them in the communal sinks.
In the morning, we strolled over to a nearby outdoor café. I bought two raspberry pastries and an Americano coffee. It came to US $14. Later in the day we decided to lunch in one of the downtown plazas. Ouch! It was almost US $150 for four people. We quickly learned that cafes and restaurants can be quite expensive in Denmark.
We were impressed by the healthy and smiling Danes who passed by the café on their way to the park. In every study by the European Union, the Danes come out number one in happiness and satisfaction with their lives.
Above: A group of new mothers exercise on the shore of Charlottelund Fort Park.
Above left: Rowers on the Oresund and Above Right: Older women are helped in exercise by coaches on the shore
Dogs roamed free in the park in areas designated for them, and drinking alcohol in public is allowed. Those two things undoubtedly contribute to the happiness index.
We had been advised to buy a Copenhagen Card for about US $50 to pay for public transportation and entrance to many attractions – a real bargain.
The bus line downtown is just outside the grounds of the fort. In Denmark everyone, even the bus drivers, speak English. The bus stops are clearly marked by a display over the front windows. Best of all, there is a special place for older persons to sit. We took advantage of our age and settled in comfortably. The bus passed through the 18th and 19th century section of the city where few buildings rise more than five stories, allowing beautiful Nordic light to flow into the streets.
Above: Equestrian statues and 19th century buildings frame the street
The first telephone exchange in Copenhagen, the Persian inspired kiosk, is now an outdoor café in Kongens Nytorv, the major plaza area in Copenhagen.
Everywhere we saw happy Copenhagians, proving the title of World’s Happiest People:
Above: A couple embrace at the Viking Museum with a 10th century boat looming
Above: Visitors tour the Palace of the Danish Royal Palace, Amalienborg
Above: Young women snap a selfie with one of the Royal Life Guards with a bearskin cap. The guards, stationed outside the Royal quarters, carry modern M-16 automatic rifles.
Above: A couple embrace in Valby Park, the largest park in Copenhagen with 17 themed gardens
Above: A café along one of the downtown streets in Copenhagen
Above: A newly married couple in downtown Copenhagen
Above: Danish students outside the design museum in Copenhagen
Copenhagen’s Old Harbor, Nyhavn, has shifted from shabby sailing ship’s loading docks to a beautiful seaside scene with cafes, boating, and loafing in the sun. We took a boat tour of the waterfront that began at the Old Harbor and passed by the Little Mermaid. I had told Jane that I had always wanted to visit Copenhagen after seeing the film Hans Christian Anderson when I was a child. I recalled the song: “Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen, friendly old girl of a town”.
A tour boat that is scaled to slip under the ancient bridges that criss-cross the old harbor.
You can see the old Bourse from the tour boat with its twisted dragon-tailed spire that represents the Scandanavian Empire: Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. It dates from 1625 and housed the stock exchange.
We viewed mid-century Danish Modern furniture at the Design Museum. At the Museum café, we tried a Smorrebrod, a traditional Danish workman’s sandwich. The bread is called Rugbrod, a very heavy rye loaded with seeds. This sandwich had herring, boiled egg, pickled apples, and plucked cress. The Smorrebrod was about US $14.
A food movement called the New Nordic Cuisine evokes the “smell, taste and history” of Scandanavia. The world’s number one rated restaurant, NOMA, located in Copenhagen, pioneered the movement, featuring dishes made from natural foods such as lichens and mosses found in forests or along the seashore. Four star restaurants are decidedly out of our price range, but relatively affordable cafes like the one at the Design Museum allowed us to savor the Nordic fare.
Denmark’s Open Air Museum in Lyngby, Frilandsmuseet, has timbered, thatched farmhouses, barns and cottages that are sited in a style reminiscent of centuries past. It was founded in the late 1800s and is free to enter. We were amazed at the sod roofed log houses.
Livestock with pedigrees from the 17th Century roam the fields, and horse drawn wagons were filled with school children learning Danish history.
A log house from the 19th century with a sod roof covered with grasses and plants.
No description of Copenhagen can go without a mention of the ever-present bikes. They are everywhere hurtling from one place to another.
After a number of days, we moved to the ancient fishing village of Dragor, home to some of our extended family. Between the 13th and 15th centuries the village was the site of a huge herring fishery. Roman Catholics in Europe were enjoined to fast from meat on Friday, but fish was allowed. Traders from all over Europe came to Dragor. The herring stocks suddenly disappeared in the 15th century and Dragor lost the core of its economy.
We walked through the harbor and our host showed us a preserved World War II era fishing boat. It commemorates the Dane’s heroic efforts to save their Jewish citizens. On October 1, 1943, Adolf Hitler ordered all Danish Jews to be arrested. Despite great personal risk, the Danish Resistance Movement evacuated 7,220 of Denmark’s 7800 Jews, plus 686 non-Jewish spouses, across the sea to neutral Sweden.
Over 99% of Denmark’s Jews escaped the Holocaust.
Dragor still retains its fishing industry, though in a far smaller fleet. We stopped for a lunch of fresh fish filleted in front of us. One of our companions had raw egg yolks, radish, herring and potatoes – a local delicacy.
We bought smoked eel, smoked salmon, pickled herring and smoked shrimp for a later meal.
That evening we camped in the yacht harbor with the kindness of our host and the harbormaster.
We arose at dawn to travel to Jutland, the west of Denmark, and the historic seat of Viking Kings. Our destination was an expansive beach, the Lakolk Strand on Romo Island.
One of the boaters was launching in Dragor harbor just as the sun was coming up. In the background is the Oresund Bridge that connects Denmark to Sweden.
My driving skills had matured enough for me to actually enjoy the main highways. It was another beautiful morning as we approached the Great Belt Bridge that connects the island on which most of Copenhagen lies, Zealand, with the island of Funen. It’s one of the world’s largest suspension bridges with a total length of over 16KM (10 miles). We pulled up to the toll booth. The pleasant Danish attendant took a look at our Mercedes truck camper and 710 Kroner (about $100) flashed on the display.
Whoa! I wished I had checked the tolls as Jane fished in her purse for the Kroner. Turns out there are only two toll roads in Denmark, the Great Belt Bridge, and the Oresund Bridge to Sweden. We thought there had been a mistake and our truck camper had been charged the rates for a larger vehicle. Later we learned that the toll was correct.
Shortly after crossing the Great Belt Bridge, we left the motorway taking an older road paralleling the highway. We spotted a classic Danish Lutheran Church nestled back from the road. Turning into the tree-lined allee, we approached the Aunslev Kirke that dated from 1650. We walked through the immaculate family plots that surround the church, each plot surrounded by slim, carefully tended hedges.
We traveled through gorgeous farm country, passing small villages every couple of kilometers. Sometimes taking the motorway is warranted. However, we would determinedly stay on the old road – and the old bridge – from Funan to Jutland rather than take the modern Little Belt Bridge.
As we queued up in heavy Saturday traffic, our hearts dropped. The old bridge had lanes so narrow we weren’t sure the Tonke could make it through; a high metal barrier was inches from the right side; oncoming cars so close we feared we might collide. Breathing a huge sigh of relief, we reached the other side – Jutland, on Europe’s mainland.
We headed north toward Jelling, taking tiny roads skirting the Vejle Fjord.
It was a Saturday and, unbeknownst to us, a major bicycle race was coursing through the farm roads.
We pulled to the side so frequently that I finally said, “Jane, let’s eat”. I backed the Tonke into a great view of the fjord while Jane assembled the smoked seafood.
Jane said that she always wants to “live” in the place where she traveled – rather than in an anonymous hotel room. “This trip we’re doing that by shopping, cooking and eating – living in our own space.” Our happy truck camper.
We saw more bicyclists assembling at a train station in a village as we continued on, following signposts to Jelling. Oddly, we were followed on two occasions by vintage American cars: a green and tan 1948 Chevy with a classic sun visor and a bright turquoise 1965 T-Bird.
Jelling, the ancient seat of the Viking Kings, is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Jelling stones, two massive carved runestones from the 10th century, mark the establishment of the Kingdom of Denmark. Sited between two large burial mounds, King Gorm the Old raised the older in memory of his wife Thyra. King Gorm’s son, Harald Bluetooth, had the larger stones carved in memory of his parents. It celebrates his conquest of Denmark and Norway and his conversion of the Danes to Christianity.
The carved stones, over a thousand years old, are encased in a glass enclosure much as our Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
The stones of King Gorm and his wife Thyra are seen in their original site.
A polychrome Runestone is located near the Kongeres Jelling Museum.
At every museum we had visited – The Viking Museum in Roskilde, the Friedlandmuseet, and now Jelling, Jane marveled at the way that Danish children “learned what it was to be Danish”. Although Danes exhibit little obvious nationalism, children learn their ancient roots as Vikings and rulers of a vast empire.
Immigrants to Denmark must learn the language and history in order to gain permanent residency, which I believe is meant to discourage opportunistic immigrants and asylum seekers – and preserve the Danish identity.
I stood in the Kongernes Jelling Museum “Experience Center” – a virtual exhibit of the life of the Vikings – with images projected on the walls and floors. One image showed a man lying on the floor covered with deadly wounds from spears, axes, swords, and knives. The question for the schoolchildren who were being shown through the museum: “What do you think was the best weapon?”
That’s not a question one would hear at the Smithsonian now-a-days, I thought to myself.
Above: Children at the Museum in Jelling
We left for Lakolk Strand, on Romo island in the Wadden Sea. Driving over a long causeway, the wind was off shore as we entered onto a miles wide beach. As far as the eye could see, European RVs spread across the sand: motorhomes (Class A), camper-vans (Class B), vans (Class C) and caravans (touring trailer). Kites flew in the ocean breeze. We were the lone truck camper.
We drew a great deal of attention from the German and Danish campers. A number of them came over to look at the Tonke. We explained that it was a “demountable camper”, known in America as a truck camper. “It’s not normal”, opined one of the Germans. They were pleasant but puzzled by the concept.
Above: Jane explaining the nature of a truck camper to a inquisitive German
I backed the Tonke up to the sea and opened the rear doors. As people walked in the warm sand just outside, I wrote up notes on our trip. I was vaguely aware that RVs were moving out, but I was so relaxed and comfortable with my Tuborg and sunny spot that I didn’t realize that the tide was coming in.
Above: That’s D. Note the tide coming in behind him.
We put everything together and moved out before there was real danger. We camped on the other side of the dunes in a huge campground. In this off season, it was perhaps a quarter full, but the adjacent shops, restaurants, bars, grocery stores and gas stations make clear that it becomes a bustling village during the summer.
We awoke to a pea-soup fog. I suggested to Jane that we go back to the beach and experience the dramatic weather. We noted that there were very few campers moving about. At the intersection it was hard to see the lights.
We drove through the sand dune opening onto the beach. I promptly became totally disoriented in the dense fog. I drove this way and then that. We didn’t know where the water was located and we didn’t know where the entrance to the beach was sited. Jane had to get out and retrace our tracks like a pathfinder with me trailing behind in the Tonke.
We drove back across the causeway. On both sides vast flocks of birds appeared stranded on the shore, unable to navigate in the fog. As the fog began to thin, we pulled to the side, grabbed our binoculars, and tried to identify the birds. Jane did her yoga exercises.
The Wadden Sea National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, runs along the west coast of Jutland, continuing down through Germany into the Netherlands. Our voyage along the seas was gorgeous on this foggy morning.
The sun peeped through by mid-morning as we passed into Schleswig-Holstein, Germany. The difference could not have been more striking. After driving through the historic village of Tonder, Denmark, and crossing the border into Suderlugum, Germany, shiny modern gas stations and chain grocery stores seek to capitalize on Germany’s cheaper liquor and food.
The German’s entrepreneurial spirit is demonstrated by a 2012 sales promotion: A new grocery store offered up to US $276 of free groceries to the first 100 patrons – if they showed up nude. The promotion worked – some 250 or so eager naked shoppers queued up. Mostly Danes according to reports.
We planned to ferry across the Elbe river at Gluckstadt, Germany. Gluckstadt was founded 1617 by Danish King Christian IV, as a competitor to the Free Imperial City of Hamburg, some 60 km (37 miles) up the Elbe.
A beautiful fortified city, we learned that Gluckstadt is a weekend destination, especially on a warm Sunday in October. Hundreds of cars were backed up approaching the ferry landing. Car doors opened, children and a few free spirited adults played in the grass, and sheep grazed along the road.
Hamburg is one of the busiest ports in the world. The Elbe River is constantly churning with ocean bound traffic. Our ferry carefully glided among the giant ships and arrived safely on the other side.
There is a thriving wine and beer industry along the Elbe that we wanted to visit. But our time was growing short as we made our way to Nordenham Campingplatz near Bremerhaven. Our experience had been that the Germans seldom spoke English, and they did not always return our emails (probably because of the language issue). We were always a little unsure of our accommodations. As it turned out, we had no issues whatsoever.
That night we watched and listened to the heavy ship traffic flowing on the Weser River.
Above: Brightly lighted vessels ply the river at night
In the morning the sun rose over the river about 200 yards distant. In between were grassy, sandy moors with tall reeds and purple yarrow. We sat in the back of the Tonke, doors wide open, having a breakfast of Danish smoked salmon, Dutch yogurt, figs, plums, toast, eggs and strong black coffee.
Above: The moors seen from our breakfast table on board the Tonke
Earlier I had gone to the “waschen” or washhouse. You must have a key to enter (remember, this is Germany). The toilets are not equipped with toilet paper, something we had been made aware of. The showers have an open dressing room and individual showers. The water is activated by a coin that you receive upon check in.
Jane had noticed that a large number of the caravans appeared to be year round. They were often covered with a device made of aluminum with spacers running the width of the trailer and attached front and back. A cover was pulled over with an air space on top.
A covering device is attached to the top of a “caravan’ that appears to be permanently sited at the campground.
We made our way out by 7:00 am having arranged for an early exit from the camp host.
We stopped in mid-morning for coffee at Ripken Holzofenbackeri, a regional bakery.
The German employees fluttered about trying to understand our English and we their German. Somehow I wound up with a wonderful apple pastry and rich coffee that I enjoyed on the patio.
After coffee, Jane and I went across the road and shopped at the Lidel Grocery. We found a good selection of groceries to replenish our stocks. I had forgotten that we had to provide our own shopping bag. We waddled out the store and across the street with groceries, cans and bottles sticking out of pockets and protruding from our arms, looking suspiciously like we had just robbed the store.
We were driving towards Esterwegen in Lower Saxony in brilliant autumn light. When passing through the villages we began noticing decorations along the road. We came up upon what appeared to be a roadside stand with vegetables, apples and flowers. It was unattended. We looked for a voluntary payment box, but none could be found. We reluctantly moved on.
When we got back to the US we asked a German scholar to translate the Plattdeutch legend on the sign:
Look at the skin of the apple
A worm peeks out,
If it is not sprayed
Then he will taste good.
An autumn roadside stand in Germany with late season vegetables and fruit.
It was difficult to translate because the region, northwestern Germany and western Netherlands, is known for Plattdeutch, or “Low German”. It is descended from the Old Saxon language and remains a bit difficult even for German speakers.
We stopped in Esterwegen for a breather. Down the road came clopping a farm wagon and horses.
We noticed that the roadsides were extremely well groomed. We came upon a crew cutting grass. A large arm with a mower protruded from the truck and a workman with a weed whipper cut around poles.
Our trip was winding down as we entered the Netherlands. We made our way to the delightful Dutch city of Elburg. The fortified town dates from 796 AD. Located on canals, the 14th century city walls have small brick houses built into its side. We stopped by a functioning windmill that somehow had been marooned inside the town.
Above: An old windmill on Fietsroute Noord Veluwe in Elburg, Netherlands
Jane and I walked along the canal when we came upon this sign. “Overnachtingsplaats”. Euro 7,95. Who knew?
We quickly secured a spot across from the Dutch wooden boats that had been an inspiration for the Tonke.
Above: One of the numerous old canals in Holland with the beautiful wooden boats.
Our last day we ambled through the Dutch countryside then up again on the highway. It was as frenzied as ever with 18-wheel double trucks in the right lane as we passed near Utrecht.
Huge trucks roll down the highways festooned with the names of dozens of cities they serve in Europe.
The speed limit was indicated on automated lights that shifted from 90 KPH to 50 KPH and back up again. Even though I was acclimated to the autobahn, it had a tension that I don’t often feel in the United States. Thankfully, we got off the road and followed our GPS to our last camp, a former Dutch dairy farm.
We were traveling on a really sketchy one-lane farm road. I was worried that on this last night I would smack the Tonke into a low-limbed tree. I’ve certainly done that to my beloved Avion truck camper. So, I was very wary, as was Jane.
The GPS took us around a bend and then indicated we had gone too far. As I turned I saw a fellow scrambling on his bike, waving broadly as he approached us. He was a friend of Maarten van Soest, the head of Tonke. He knew that we were camping at his farm and had spotted us driving back and forth on the road.
He had a beautiful brick house and barn and guided us to a spot in a manicured pasture that had water and power hook-ups. We camped beneath pollarded plane trees.
That night a light rain began to fall. It was our first rain of the trip. We slept snugly as the drops drummed lightly on the camper top.
An older couple maintains this spotless property, tending the gardens and grounds. It is typical of much of the Dutch countryside.
It was a quick trip in the morning to the Tonke shops in Terjeiden. Waiting for us were some of the artisans that build the Tonke Classic. We examined the camper and truck for damage. Thankfully, everything was okay.
Above: Bas Bots, carpenter and painter on the left and Theo Otto, carpenter on the right at the Tonke facility in Terheijan, Netherlands.
As we made our way back towards Amsterdam, we were pleased with our trip. We drove 1,897 KM (1,178 miles) spending just over US $300 for fuel. Additionally, cooking our own food and staying in the thrifty European campsites kept our costs to less than $150 a day apiece. The camper has room for three to sleep, so cost per person can actually go lower.
According to the Lonely Planet, the average “mid range” cost per person in Western Europe is about $225 per day, with $300 a day a realistic figure for many (older) people.
We had the opportunity to interact with workers, ferrymen, cooks and average folks in rural Holland, Germany and Denmark visiting dozens of town and villages.
We spent time with our extended family without imposing on them for lodging and meals. We stopped whenever and wherever we chose. We ate delicious food and sipped great European wines and beers. We slept soundly at night in our luxurious camper.
Truck camping had proven to be the best possible way to travel in Europe – for us. As a testament to the ease and comfort that the Tonke truck camper had provided, we felt energized and ready to hit the road again. We went on to Amsterdam and Istanbul, taking advantage of low cost Turkish Airlines policy to allow a stop-over on one ticket.
We can’t wait to go truck camping again in Europe. Hope to see you there.