Cologne to UK

Monday 30 November: Cologne to Vaal, Netherlands

Parking spot in Cologne.

Parking spot in Cologne.

Cologne Koln GPS Position: 50.95575, 6.97393

Well I set of for Aachen this morning with an uneventful and boring journey, This last little bit of Germany is not the prettiest by a long stretch of the imagination. Gone are the old buildings, gone are the superb paintings on properties indicating its trade, gone too are the elaborately painted churches and historic castles. All these things are replaced with boring buildings and too much use of concrete. I hate concrete buildings, cheap and lacklustre with no appeal in any form.

As i drove into Aachen, the last German city for me there was a problem, parking, or should I say a lack of it, You could park a car in town but there was know where for me to fit Vin. What a pain in the arse. I drove around time and again but with no joy, As i’m not a lover of cities i though stuff it, I’ll head to Holland or the Netherlands as it’s known these days. With that I punched Maastricht into the TomTom and away I went. There was no border crossing just one minute the signs were in German then they weren’t. It was getting dark so I pulled up in the first town. It’s name was Vaal, I pulled down a side street to find a spot for the night, there was plenty of spaces to pull in but all facing someones home, Not my cup off tea and I know that wild camping in the Netherlands can be an issue so I moved on a bit.

Vaals GPS Position: 50.77715, 6.01469

A sign pointed the way to parking for a sports centre so I pulled in, A pleasant Dutch chap was walking his dog so I asked if he spoke English, Yes he said along with German, French, Russian, Italian and even Chinese. The Dutch people seam to speak more languages than any other nation I have met. I asked if it was OK to park and he said “Sure, no problem” so with that I parked up for the night.

Tuesday 1 December: Vaal to Calais

Well I woke this morning with the intention of driving through this very thin section of the Netherlands and being in Brussels tonight after visiting a couple of towns on route. Good intentions don’t always work out. I was just ready to set off when “knock, knock” at the door, it was the Dutch police, I always find that being super polite and acting a bit thick is always the best practice in these situations. He asked if I had slept here last night so I said yes, I told him about asking the man with his dog and the Policeman said it was OK, no fine or anything but that it was unwise to park in such places and that campsites are the best option, there is a possibility of crime he said. I asked about the policy of sleeping in a vehicle, basically “wild camping” and he evaded the answer by just saying that in his opinion it was best to use campsites in the Netherlands. After looking at my driving licence he said goodbye and within 5 minutes I had set off myself.

I’d had a quick look at the Maps the night before and decided to visit a town or two before reaching the city of Maastricht on the border that afternoon. I saw some lovely young deer by the roadside on route but with my run of luck there was again no where to park. I pulled into a bus stop to take a couple of piccies and then drove into the town Valkenburg.

The town centre car park allowed me to stay for free until 11am, more that enough time for a quick look around the centre. Valkenburg seems a nice little place, apparently the town is built on soft limestone rock and over the centuries the locals have dug the rock out and used it for building materials. There are now lots of caves in the area and even a couple you can visit in the towns centre. It appeared however that most had been turned into Santa’s grottoes so I gave them a miss, I’m a little big to sit on Santa’s knee these days. The town itself has lots of nice looking cafés and restaurants though and lots of little shops to visit. It has an old ruin on top of a hill in the centre and a few little canals cut through the centre of town too, this is Holland after all, land of tulips, windmills and canals. After a couple of hours my free parking time was up so I set off for the city of Maastricht to spend the rest of the day.

The tiny bit of the Netherlands I have seen though does seem quite nice, this area is the highest area in its entire land mass, just 230m above sea level at its highest point. The landscape was very green and very flat as you would expect and finally I arrived at Maastricht, Oh dear, same problem here as in Aachen, no parking or when there was parking it was €2.70 for 60 minutes even on the outskirts, I passed though a few housing estates and these even had parking meters. It’s no wonder there are so many Dutch motorhomes in every other country. They cannot afford to park a camper for the day in there own country.

I was a little brassed off by now, that’s two major places I haven’t visited and if truth be known I am missing my baby, Joanne. It is not the same without her. We drive each other nuts at times but love her to bits and she was on my mind. I was on the border with Belgium so I thought I’d try my luck there instead. Brussels was entered into the TomTom but told to avoid any motorways, I figures i’d drive through a few Belgian towns first and get a feel for the country before reaching the capital.

Not long after I spotted a sign with a building on it, not knowing what it was I figured i’d have a look, I mean what else is there to do. Not long after I pulled up to what looked a bit like a French chateaux or something along those lines, It had nice gardens surrounding the impressive building with a courtyard in the centre, it even had its own small church. I walked into the information centre and asked what the place was. The lady explained it was a centre for congress, I think she actually meant a conference centre. I walked around and saw what looked like people having lectures or something through the windows.

Rijkhoven GPS Position: 50.84159, 5.51913

It was time to move on again so I followed the TomTom route again. I passed through a few towns all of which i’d best describe as dreary, this was not at all as I expected. I continued on towards Brussels but the road was horrible, It was made the same as an airport runway. 10 metre sections of concrete and not flat or even at that. My teeth felt like they’d fallout any second and anything that might rattle or chink in the van did so. I wasn’t in a great mood to start with but this just felt like torture. I pulled over in the town of Tongeren to look at an aire i’d seen on the map and to put a wash on if possible.

Tongeren GPS Position: 50.78690, 5.45143

The aire was €8.50 for 24 hours and included electricity, The area was in two parts, one a grassy area that would be good in summer and a paved area that was close to the sites toilets and shower block which are also in the price. All in all a good little spot and the price wasn’t too bad i suppose. I opted not to stay and just sort out my washing, besides it was raining pretty hard so I decided to move on towards Brussels again.

Chatter, chatter, chink, chink time again on that flaming road, I was going insane and by the time I had reached the next town i’d had enough. As i drove i was weighing up my options, do I continue on or do I head home, some of the thoughts in my head were.

I was missing Joanne.
I had no Peanut to keep me company.
I was sick of the no parking or expensive parking options lately.
I was sick of the rain.
Belgium so far was not my cup of tea.
This bloody road was maddening.

My journey was only going to last for a few more days so I made a decision, I headed for the motorways and put my right foot down on the gas pedal. For a change it was me passing everything on the roads and not them passing me. After a few hundred kilometres had passed I was at Calais in France, it had been a long day so I headed straight for the Aire that’s near the ferry terminal and phoned Joanne as she didn’t expect me home for a week or so.

Ring Ring, Ring, Ring….
It’s me, I’m at Calais, have a look at the prices for ferries for me, i’m coming home.
Oh, er right then, I’ll ring you back in ten minutes.
Joanne rang me back but the cheapest ferry was €130 unless i waited a couple of days and then it was still €90.
I’ll get on the first ferry tomorrow and see you soon.
Great, I’ll see you then.
A couple of tinnies later and my long day caught up with me so I retired to bed.

Wednesday 2 December: Calais to Home

Calais GPS Position: 50.96586, 1.84347

The following morning I headed for the ferry terminal and booked on the first available ferry at 10.55am. A quick shower and a bit of breakfast and it was time to drive Vin onto the ship. The entrance was quite close to say the least, I had just 4cm of clearance on the sides and on the top too but I squeezed on.

The port of Calais.

The port of Calais.

I looked out and saw the huge Calais signs on the port itself and then the penny dropped, that was it then, my journey for this year was over, I had been away for a year, my arse had been in the drivers seat for 460 hours and i’d drove over 15400 km. It was a weird feeling knowing it had come to an end. We had seen and visited some brilliant places over the last 12 months, the weather had been good for the most of it and we had met some really nice and interesting people on Our Bumbles. The bad points, well we had a few arguments, our beloved Peanut passed away and Vin got a little damaged but all in all it was well worth the time, effort and money to see and experience what we had. By the time i’d stopped thinking the loud speaker was saying the ferry was pulling into Dover harbour and it was time to disembark.

White cliffs of Dover.

White cliffs of Dover.

I drove Vin off and my right foot went heavy again for all the remaining 500km home. I stopped once for just nine minutes to have a brew and a quick sandwich.

I had phoned a few times on route telling Joanne I was stuck in traffic or behind schedule so I could surprise her. After a quick pit stop at Morrison’s down the road from where we live to pick up a bunch of flowers and a bottle of wine, Guest what? She wasn’t in so I had to phone Joanne and let her know I was home as I had left my house keys with a neighbour before we left for the trip. So much for my surprise then.

Ten minutes later she arrived home as she’d been to the supermarket too, getting me some goodies. A quick kiss and a hug and once more we were home together. I walked into the house and it felt massive, space everywhere, even the sink seemed like you could have a bath in it, the reality is though living in a van is different from life at home, everything is smaller, the seating, the table, the sink, even the loo and shower are smaller. This will take a little time to adjust to again, no doubt as soon as I have got used to everything it’ll be time to set off on another Bumble, just a couple of little jobs too do on the Van and then watch this space….

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