For Pukkelpop we of course had to stock up before hand on pre drinks, and few things are more cost effective than beer in Belgium. At the supermarket, all of the major breweries all sold these mini 5L kegs, which we thought was just the most novel thing! Slightly more than buying in cans, but we thought “when in rome.” Also the first time I’ve tried Jupiler before. I’m not really a beer drinker so once again my critique goes as far as ‘it was ok.’ We were reunited with the campervan once again (we’d roped in Claire’s brother to be our driver by that stage, as our licenses were still not recovered nor were replacements able to be sent from NZ or any other documentation able to be provided). The van had a mini fridge in it, and much hilarity ensued when we discovered the keg fitted perfectly into the fridge! Tapping it was most definitely an exercise in logic, with only a funny shaped plastic thing and a rubber tube to work with. There were probably instructions in Flemish or something, but it took us a while without an IKEA type instructional illustration… We also bought one of these cheap, mini pop up tents, which, apparently, every other festival goer had too. There were just fields and fields of that same tent! Ours was the green one to the left, and when we woke up in the morning, immediately on the other side of the fence behind was an entire herd of cattle there waking us up with their mooing.
As previously mentioned, there were a number of logistical issues we hadn’t quite thought through until we embarked on our campervan adventure. One of which was when and where we would shower. We were initially very stubborn about keeping costs down, so were hoping to avoid camp grounds wherever we could. We were planning to, as much as possible, use public facilities like swimming pools and rest stops on highways. But it was a really funny feeling having to actually plan how and where to access a shower, instead of having one a few metres away from your bed like normal.
I have to say, as I write this I feel incredibly spoiled, as I know for many in the world who haven’t ever had access to a shower, toilet or even running water such a ‘dilemma’ would be a dream situation. With that in mind, we weren’t overly troubled by the scenario, it just meant a bit of forward planning and creative thinking.
Our first attempt to solve the problem, was to go to the Dunkirk Olympic Swimming Pool where we could shower for 80c. Armed with a bag of laundry and some liquid laundry detergent, off we went, excited to feel clean again. Once we went to the changing rooms, however, there was this weird coat check type thing going on, and a whole bunch of French people (including a man, despite it being in the ladies room) rattling off demands at us in French, and no showers in sight. They were trying to hand us these numbered baskets, so we assumed it was a security measure so our belongings were safe. After we handed over the things we wanted looked after, they were still not satisfied. They seemed very disgruntled that we weren’t handing over ALL of our things. My high school French was very rusty, but the gist we were getting was “you’re doing it wrong.” We employed the “nod and smile” strategy, usually a winner in a foreign language scenario and carried on to look for the showers. An 8 year old girl also stopped us to protest, but we still couldn’t work out what she was expecting us to do differently.
As we rounded a corner and went down some steps, we saw, to my great horror, communal showers. Thankfully there were a few cubicles there. The showers were miles away from the changing rooms, and highly visible from poolside, as well as by the mysterious coat check man in the female changing rooms. We then realised that the system is as follows: go to change room, put togs on, leave all posessions with coat check people, shower with togs on before jumping into the pool. That wasn’t really going to work for us, as we wanted to actually shower, and whilst we were in there sneakily handwash our clothes. We also didn’t have togs with us which exacerbated the situation somewhat. No thank you, I’m not going to do a naked run from the changing area to the shower area! As a third person berated us for still being clothed in the showering area, we again nodded and smiled, pulling our best ‘naiive foreigner’ faces and continued to ignore there rules so we could finally achieve our cleanliness goals in the privacy of the wee shower cubicle.
All in all it was a very strange situation. Who would have thought a simple shower would have so many rules!
Later on we would recount this story to a French friend who assured us that that is not the norm for all swimming pools in France, and the Dunkirk one must be an anomaly.
Once we arrived on the continent with our campervan we very quickly learnt there were a few things we hadn’t quite thought through. The most pressing of which was where to park up and sleep, as it was about 11pm, and we had just completed a journey that felt exactly like The Amazing Race, with very little sleep.
The point of our campervan journey was to save both transport and accomodation costs, as well as see a whole bunch of places. But the difficulty is planning where exactly to stop when you settle in for the night. There are plenty of campsites available, but when searching around online for locations and prices, some of them seemed to be even more expensive than staying in a hostel. Not ideal.
Our first concern was safety, so we thought we would find somewhere close to public facilities and well lit, but also subtle enough so people won’t be able to spot that there were two girls sleeping in the van. We found a carpark near the shops, and there was an open subway there (also ideal for a nearby bathroom). However, the subway closed shortly after and all that were pubs. Drunk old men stumbling around? No thanks. So we were back to square one on the safety front and instead decided to follow the signs to the camping ground. (Called a ‘Camping’ in French). Once there, there was no office or anything, so we found ourselves a spot, confused as to how we were meant to pay. Eventually we spotted a sign that said someone comes around in the morning. However, we were on the road before we managed to find the person we were supposed to pay, so that was a win I guess…
The second problem we encountered was storage. As our campervan was actually a converted Toyota Previa, it was very compact. Accurately described by Spaceships UK as “The swiss army knife of campervans” there were compartments galore, but barely enough space to store everything. Our plan of including a third friend quickly had to be scrapped, and first on the agenda after a night’s sleep was stopping off at the nearest equivalent we could find to The Warehouse or IKEA to get some cheap plastic boxes. Living out of this bad boy for 5 weeks would definitely require some serious organisation! Luckily it was actually really comfortable to sleep in.
On the plus side, it came with some excellent gadgets – a little fridge, picnic table/chairs and awnings, a DVD player, and probably the thing that made our lives most do-able was a power adapter so we could charge our laptops and phones whilst driving. We even considered purchasing a low voltage hair straightener to go with.
Next issue: bathrooms. It quickly dawned on us that we were going to have to think ahead about every time we would need to go to the toilet. East enough when you are on the highway or in the centre of a city, but an important consideration when you stop for the night! As well as making toilet plans, not knowing for sure when/where your next shower would be was just the strangest sensation. Turns out our plan of not making plans might need a bit of revision. After we departed Calais in the morning, our next destination was Dunkirk. First stop was stocking up on groceries and storage, the next was Dunkirk’s Olympic Swimming Pool for showers!
The final problem, which proved to be the most crucial, was the exterior of the van itself. The bloody thing was bright orange! Could you be more conspicuous? To add insult to injury, there were stickers on it that said “Traveller’s Adventures.” Sadly we had been falsely assured by the rental company that ‘no-one can really tell its a campervan, so you can just park anywhere to sleep.’ Worst advice ever. But more on that dilemma later…