Sunday, July 27, 2008

Camping (part one)

When I was growing up, we regularly went camping on our summer holidays. I'm sure my parents would have quite liked to stay in hotels, but with three children and long summer holidays because they were both teachers, camping was the affordable option. It allowed us to spend 5 weeks at a time in continental Europe. Most summers we spent the whole five weeks in France. One summer we started out in the Netherlands, traveled across Europe to northern Italy, and back to Belgium.

DH (an avid camper and Eagle Scout) had a hard time understanding at first when I tried to explain about the camping we did in Europe. He's the kind of guy who goes camping when there's several feet of snow on the ground and WITHOUT a tent just for the fun of it!

My descriptions of our camping trips seemed to leave him confused. A tent with a bedroom, a kitchen inside it and room for a table?



1 Bedroom
2 Kitchen Area
3 Bedroom
4 Bedroom
5 Living Area
Campsites with hot showers? Campsites where fresh bread was delivered every morning? Camping in vineyards or the grounds of a ch√Ęteau? Evening meals that took several hours to prepare and just as long to eat?

We had a large frame tent, with an inner tent that was the bedroom area. The outer tent area had room for a stove, a table and stools, and storage for things that didn't fit in the inner tent. There were large windows with curtains, and the entire front of the tent could be opened up in the daytime. It was mostly very civilized, especially when we went camping with our friends.

tent

Their dad was a professional chef. During the day as we were sight-seeing, we would check out the menus posted outside the restaurants and he would tell us which dishes he could prepare on the 4 gas burners and two grills ('broilers') we had between us. Then we'd go food shopping. After a cup of tea and perhaps a slice of fruit cake on our return to the campsite in the late afternoon, he would start work preparing dinner. He cooked most of the evening meals on condition that we were his commis-chefs doing any prep-work he asked us to and he NEVER did any dishes. I remember many an evening staggering off to the toilet block to do the dishes long after the lights on the campsite were out, relying on the moonlight to find our way there and back. Over the course of a five week trip we would eventually break several of the real wine glasses we had brought with us and (horror of horrors) resort to drinking wine out of plastic 'glasses'. (Looking at the few photos I have and realizing that sometimes we bought wine in plastic bottles, I don't think drinking such cheap plonk out of plastic could have been particularly detrimental!) Eventually we discovered Arcoroc tumblers at a French hypermarket. They are made of glass, but they seem to bounce most of the time when they hit the ground! I think eventually we graduated to a slightly better class of vin de table too.

It was not exactly 'camping sauvage', we weren't roughing it, but it wasn't the lap of luxury either. We didn't have a fridge, as the rental tents in France do nowadays. Back then, I don't remember a single site that we stayed at ever having a washing machine and dryer, although I do remember one where there was an iron you could use. There were usually several sets of sinks though - shallow sinks for washing dishes, very deep sinks with built-in washboards for washing clothes, and sinks for washing people. The last were usually indoors, the others outdoors. Depending on the location, there was sometimes a sink designated for gutting fish.

fishgutting

We often stayed at sites where hot water cost extra. In that case, we would heat water on the stove for doing dishes. There was one site in the Netherlands where there was no hot water at all, not even for showers. We stayed there for several days, and I vividly remember the searing headache I got when I finally gave in and washed my hair in the seemingly ice-cold water.

Thinking of 'bathrooms' as Americans call them, many campsites had the 'squat' ('Turkish') toilets. They should have been really easy to keep clean with a high-pressure hose. Unfortunately, we found that when there were lots of people at the site who were unused to them, they were often disgusting. They were usually at their cleanest when we were the only foreigners on the entire campsite.

Although our vacations were not entirely stress-free, certainly not for my parents who did so much of the work and particularly during our teenage years when we were being obnoxious, I have wonderful memories of them. I hope my kids will have good memories of camping with us, but camping with DH is a little different. Remember, he likes camping in the snow with no tent . . .

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