Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.
Who: Dorothy Blagrove and her husband, Peter, of Arlington, and their sons, Michael and Justin
Where, when, why: When friends who live outside Oxford, England, offered us the use of their VW camper van, we jumped at the opportunity to have a camping experience abroad. For 3 1 / 2 weeks in July 2012, we traveled the highways and country roads of England, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. We became so fond of our retro royal-blue house on wheels that our boys nicknamed it “The Blue Whale.”
Highlights and high points: At campgrounds in Germany and France, we’d be asked whether we’d like to have the baker bring us our morning bread, which included several varieties of croissants, baguettes and, in Germany, warm breakfast rolls. The local baker would bring the baked goods early the next day, and we’d joyfully devour them on our little plot of grass.
While camping on Lake Zurich in Switzerland, my husband and I marveled at the freedom our children enjoyed. Our boys, Michael (then age 10) and Justin (then age 5), made fast friends with several Scottish, Italian, German and English children, running around, playing soccer on an open field and swimming in the lake. The children didn’t seem to notice any language barrier. Or perhaps play is the ideal way to overcome it.
Cultural connection or disconnect: The most obvious cultural connection was our delight in the bargain prices for camping; most campgrounds charged roughly $15 to $40 a night. European families usually receive several weeks of summer vacation, so camping is a great way for them to economize on accommodations. Finding a bargain knows no cultural boundaries!
Cultural disconnects were similarly obvious. In England, we were amazed to find a campground completely full even though the weather was miserable. Campers sat placidly under their awnings sipping tea, seemingly unfazed by the cold and rain. Michael sagely noted that if the weekend forecast looked this abysmal back home, most folks wouldn’t even consider going camping, let alone show up, sit under an awning and act like it was a fine summer day.
Biggest laugh or cry: After wandering through the Roman baths in England, visiting castles and ruins in Alsace-Lorraine, touring a 15th-century hospital in Burgundy and taking river cruises in Belgium and France, we eventually made our way to Paris, where we planned to stay with friends and their two young boys. We’d only just arrived at their apartment when our 5-year-old proclaimed, “Paris is the best!” When we asked why, he responded, “I never dreamed there would be a Wii and an iPad with Angry Birds!” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
How unexpected: Traveling with our house on wheels meant that we could make spontaneous decisions about where to go. Arriving by car ferry in Calais, France, we opted to temporarily forgo our planned trip to Normandy, where the weather was still cool and rainy, and decided instead to drive to Belgium, spending two magical (and sunny) days in the beautiful medieval city of Bruges.
Fondest memento or memory: Justin loved eating chocolate crepes in Belgium and France; Michael marveled at the girders supporting the Eiffel Tower; Peter enjoyed visiting with campground vacationers and seeing old friends; and I loved sharing this wonderful experience with my very fortunate family. There are times now when my husband pulls out our crepe pans, whips up some batter, and we sit down to savor chocolate crepes together as we relive some of those very special moments.