Europe trip in the VW T25 1981 campervan

Well we are finally here, insurance MOT snow tires vehicle tax and a brand new tap for the sink.

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Right all set to go to Dover for the ferry to Calais better get fuel first don’t want to get caught short! Full tank done we are ready to depart, but what’s that smell? Shit there’s a leak under the campervan….Must be leaking water surely?. Karens face tells it all… “not already!” I get on my knees and swipe my fingers through it hoping its water, nope its bloody fuel. Jonny says “fuel tanks leaking!” what should I do. I’m not calling Karens farther after 5 mins since we left sod that! “I’ll ring the mechanic”.

So calling steve on the mobile who gave the camper a MOT he’s very familiar with this campervan having worked on it before and generally likes what it has to offer. “Steve its Jonny, theres fuel leaking from the camper!” Steve says ” Did you fill it right up? Jonny says “yeah I did.” Steve says ” No problem, you can’t fill it right up as it has an overflow valve, just fill it 80% next time, all good” Jonny with a huge sigh of relief ” Yeah mate good as gold, thanks for that. Cheers for you help mate”

So after that little hiccup we were finally ready to hit the highway, its raining and cold as hell it is winter after all. If we are going to get used to it before having winter in Europe for the first few months better now than never. After a few hours we arrive in Dover the port for the ferry, time for a security check some old English lady wanders over with her torch to inspect the van. I hop out and greet her she wants to look inside and happily open the sliding door for her. This torch must be something from a 2 dollar shop, you couldn’t see your own two feet the light that gives. 5 seconds and she was done…. Really that’s it? I mean I could have had drugs or some stowaway English migrant ready to live life in Europe! Oh wait they trying to get into England aye. So all done on your way sir, quite shocked considering that security usually should be might be amped up. Nah she’ll be right attitude seems to be the way.

Onwards waiting in line for about 2 hours freezing cold… So I haven’t mention there’s no air conditioning. .. Something had to give to make way for the LPG kit in the van. It was a long two hours! And as we started driving onto the boat we realised we could head into the cafeteria for a good shit and bickies. Oh well I did say this will acclimatise us for Europe. On the boat and good to go, just so you know this ain’t no interislander she’s got way more kick than that. Couldn’t believe how fast we were going! Me and Karen reminiscing on how we have planned and saved for this trip, it’s all happening. Both of us really couldn’t believe it. Better believe it cause this is getting very real.

Calais approaches and we are ready to jump into the camper and drive off this Ferrari ferry, one thing that dawned on me quite quickly, right hand drive….. I admit I felt quite nervous, why would they drive like this… Drive on the other side you idiots! Then realised I am the minority, this is Europe learn quick or you will make a scene!

Driving out of Calais was interesting to say the least, drive around the same motorway twice and you soon realise that yeah time to head city centre and get cash out. That was my other fear driving in Europe with no cash on hand, euros. All good and well to have a card but the police over here can give you on the spot fines and then there are road tolls. Always have money on you, you save yourself a headache.

Got our money and onto Belgium, still quite unsettling I’m driving on the right side. The speed limits are higher here and luckily our campervan hits 100km just a little top-heavy when the wind blows. It’s a beautiful sunset in France and we are about to enter Belgium, must be about 6pm and ready to call it, an already jam-packed day.

So coming off the motorway the sat nav decides to take us tiki touring through some native farm land in Belgium. Narrow long roads with canal ditches on either side, not to mention the lights on the camper aren’t that bright. I didn’t need this not now im so ready to call it a day. After a 15 minute theme park ride through the back country/wop wops we made a town where the campsite resides. We made it first night and we have some security, paid for our pad for the camper and set up. Lets get some food from the local dairy something for dinner to reward us of our journey into mainland Europe.

Got us some meat veges fruit cereal and Melk…. This stuff didn’t taste like the milk you drink, no-no. This was like greek yoghurt runny with a slight thickness run to it. It took me a few days to get used to it, I don’t mind it now but that’s what travelling is for. Getting in and trying the local foods and drinks and getting amongst it.

Fire up the gas, for some reason it’s not working. I’m feeling quite wheezey right now for some reason I can’t get the gas to work. I’m switching on the taps under the sink but makes no different now I’m getting a sinking feeling we have run out of gas. Looking to Karen and it’s cold vege and cheese wrap on the menu instead of Mexican. Not quite the start we wanted! Will sort this in the morning and top gas up and find out if I’m turning the wrong switch or something.

Onwards and upwards filled Joker with some gas and we are good to drive onto Brugge. Found an Aires site to stay and park up for the night. Me and Karen thought lets give Ian a txt and see if he knows there was something different to do to turn the gas hobs on. Txt back confirming and we had light! Whether it was short of gas not holding down long enough or simply turn the wrong tap on we will never know. At least now it’s working!

We make our way to Brugge and soon see that this pretty city is old and quaint with medieval feel to it. To be fair all I was thinking was beers and chocolate, but that would be disrespecting the beautiful town this is. Further on we walk through Brugge and the streets get more narrow and the cobble stones get older, horse and kart is a common sight here as they trot along past so effortlessly. Finally chocolate shops, beer shops its unreal to see so many different beers on offer. Which one? Who knows but gotta start somewhere! we head into an area called Begijnhof were it dates back to 13th century. The people who lived here like nuns were a beguine community meaning they chose to live a life of simplicity. We are heading further into Brugge and approach the main central square which is watched on by the Belfort. Amazing bustling square surrounded by old gothic buildings with gold incorporated in them. The place really felt like you were stuck in the 13th century we headed onto a museum called Musea Brugge which involved the town hall and old artifacts this building was truly impressive with its art works on display inside. Then onto the court house and an instantly eery feeling you were being judged, ahead was a table . Where 20 or so men sat around higher than you would announce your fate. The room itself was creative and amazing paintings on show with sculptures of baby angels in random poses you would see on a cat walk…. Quite strange but at the same time humorous.

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We were then ready to try some beers, convincing Karen that she too could have beer in the idea of cherry, and so we walked around making sure we found a local not the well publicised pubs in Brugge to have our first beer. We found a place called De Belleman pub and order our first brew, I had a dark Tongerlo and Karen having a Mystic cherry beer. The pub was old and it just felt right, I guess it’s a surreal feeling drinking somewhere that 500 or so years prior there was someone else drinking there. The beers, fantastic as expected, went down a treat. Mine being so dark and smooth with that added kick up the ass was worth savouring. Karens experience with the cherry bear was a hit and now puts her in the running for potentially liking beer! Which is great news!

Ready to explore some more we visited a local cheese delicatessen and order some creamy soft cheese and a nutty cheese. We walked around before getting back into another pub called De garre this was a 3 storey back of an alley way that anyone could have missed. Before we entered you would think the place is dead as we walked in and noticed the place was heaving. Up the stairs we go these stairs made of old uneven wood I would say are ancient and they wind up so narrow into the next room this is also heaving so onwards to the 3rd floor and we find one table that is free. I order a Golden Draak 10.5 % goodness this stuff knocked my socks off even better it came with some cheese picking at with a tooth pick. Karen had a taste of another cheery beer called Kriek Boon this was more of a beer and not as sweet but nonetheless still enjoyed. This experience was very authentic and homely. Time to make our way back and plan next journey to Ghent.

Ghent is the next destination where I met up with good friend from Gracefield Christchurch, Lorenzo had already ensured that he will top up the fridge of what he thinks are good Belgian beers. He was also was kind enough to give up his bed for me and Karen for the night. Lorenzo gave us a tour of Ghent, a city with old style gothic incorporated with new elements of city life. A city that certainly didn’t lack a number of churches, each time the city was under siege and new occupation they would build another church. 3 main churches I saw were all in proximity 500 metres of each other. The city in parts old like Brugge and nice canals and others very city like. But it had a good feel about it and was also a very student city as it has a university there. We decided it was time to head back and chillax for the rest of the day. This was the start of my beer tasting. The first being a common beer called Jupiler, the next was called Babar which was a honey flavoured dark beer. That was a top beer in my opinion, the final beer was a strong Augustine and that was delicious. People who know me know that I like dark beers and that hit the spot. Cheers Lorenzo for your fantastic hospitality and beer tastings!

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Next Journey Ypres and Passchendaele where the soldiers of many countries lost in battle, more strickenly the ANZACS that lost their life in a battle half way around the world. The first place we visited and paid respects was the Australian memorial Buttes New British Cemetery was perched on top of a man-made mound used in the 1st world war by the Germans as a bunker. Next to this memorial were the lives lost of New Zealanders in this war. You get a feeling that there is a great deal of respect for the kiwis that fought in this war alongside the allies.

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We took a trip up to Tyne cot cemetery where you see a greater scale of lives lost in this area it really is a numb feeling knowing what took place here. Makes you appreciate the life we live now a days with no thought of war. Even more complexing is that a lot of the tomb stones have no names on them, and known only as ‘Known unto God’. I’m very grateful I had come to see such a historical place.

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Next destination Oudenaarde for some Liefsmans beer, cherry beer and fruits beer on the rocks another hit on Karen’s beer list! Now there’s this shop called Prick & Tik and mate this was some quality shop. I’ve not seen beer this cheap! Photo provided and got the lot for €15 ! Enough said.

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Antwerp was interesting city with a fashion sense to it, the main street being very much like Oxford street, London it had all the main fashion shops. There’s money in this city and it certainly shows with all the buildings it has a very gothic feel with the main church standing out in the middle called Once-lieve-Vrouwekathedraal. This church really did dwarf everything around it, impressive to say the least.

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Walking around and we found a chocolate shop and decided to buy a little wee box of magic, and yes this stuff was gold as. Time was up and it was time to head back to Geel.

Brussels, the main city of Belgium speaks both Dutch and French, this city was a lot larger than its counterparts. We had decided to do an underground walk of the Royale Palace called Coudenberg which dated back to 12 century containing old cellars armoury and pots and glass. Being somewhere quite so old is surreal when standing inside with nothing modern around you.

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Off into the city centre and we found the main square called the Grand Place, like all the other squares it was dominated by old gothic buildings with intricate detail. We set off for some lunch and making sure we found something local. Cafe/restaurant called ‘Les Gens Que j aime’ this place had a very real quaint local feel to it, retro was the look with old hanging chandeliers the forefront of the cafe.Lunch was topped off with some solid beer and one that would top my list, Rochefort 10 this stuff had rocket. Such strong beer yet so smooth and easy drinking it was by far one of my top beers. Karen having asked for a cheery beer was out of stock was offered a raspberry beer to which she found sweet and tasty.

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Walking around some more we came across the Manneken pis fountain, the story has it that a farther lost son to find him pissing on the spot where the statue resides. Therefore thought it was a good idea to replicate the scene.

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From there we visited the Catholic church Saint Gudule & Saint Michaels cathedral. By then waffles was craved with chocolate and cream that lasted 5 seconds. Well that concludes the end of our journey in Belgium and my first blog of any sort so hope you enjoyed the read.

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