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Thursday, 20 December 2012

Europe Trip 2012/13 - Outward to Xanten

4th December. 
Our first intention for this trip was to enjoy some of the Christmas markets in Germany and hopefully a “white Christmas” in the Harz Mountains, a forested landscape on the North German plain covering the three states of Saxony-Anhalt, Thuringia and Lower Saxony - complete with its own national park and a network of small gauge steam railways.

Leaving home a few days into December meant that we were already a bit late to immerse ourselves into the maximum number of Christmas markets, as most start late in November and finish a couple of days before Christmas - though a few do run to the end of December. We had a rough plan for a tour and that would suffice.

As usual we overnighted at the Brittania Inn, St Austell. We never seem to be able to get away early on the day of departure and this favourite stopover gives us a good meal and just that happy boost of “yes, we are finally on our way!”

GPS: 50.3459 N, 04.7402 W

5th December
After a bleary eyed start, we stopped for LPG and a cooked breakfast at Trerulefoot, near Plymouth. “Route 38” sells itself as an American Diner, but disappointingly, two small coffees cost nearly as much as the breakfast - not quite in the great American tradition of endless extra top-ups!

GPS: 50.4074 N, 04.3526 W

Moving onto Bristol, we visited the Caravan and Boat Seat Cover Company, the suppliers of our last foam mattress, who kindly and swiftly made a new template and promised to deliver a new one, plus memory foam topper, to my sister's address by 11th Dec. Swift service by most people's standards, and we considered the slight delay to our plans a necessity as our mattress was now seven years old and a bit compacted - another six months might be a few too many!

GPS: 51.4157 N, 02.6095 W

For the night we found The Crown Inn at Regil from the Club Motorhome site. Recently under new management it has received rave reviews on Trip Advisor. It is indeed a charming traditional country pub, including the long trip down a narrow lane! The car park is fairly sloping and despite picking a spot at the bottom we didn't manage to get quite level, but still acceptably so.

The Crown Inn at Regil

Plenty of room in the car park?

In the main bar was a real log fire and we settled ourselves in front of it with a pint and the menu, which included a full Christmas dinner and other festive specials. We shared some good natured chat with the staff and locals at the bar, but when we ordered our food the landlord politely asked us to move to another table as there was a skittles match about to start! The traditional table skittles was set up in front of the fireplace and at the same time another contest was held in the full size skittle alley upstairs. Both venues were extremely well attended and the levels of skill (and serious rivalry) on display were very entertaining.

Our fish and chips arrived with a pile of beautifully cooked veg and a superb tartar sauce. With four pints the bill came to £27.50 - great value.

GPS: 51.3707 N, 02.6626 W

We chatted on with the friendly locals and left feeling tired and content, looking forward to a peaceful nights sleep – little did we know what the early hours would bring…

6th December
Slumbering as deeply as we could be, I suddenly felt the van rise up, together with a dreadful splintering sound a few inches from my head!

Stunned, I was trying to pull myself awake when the van rocked again and there was a repeat of that stomach churning, grinding and crunching noise. Fearing the van was being vandalised, I cried out: “Oh no!” Not here, not now, surely! It was 03.15 am.

In a frenzy to grab some clothes, I opened the side door window and I could see the number plate on a stationary car, the windows totally frosted over and the exhaust steaming in the freezing air. "Remember this number" I yelled to Sue (as if she was in any fit state to remember anything!) and called out the registration.

The car started to move off and I screamed some choice words through the window. To my relief it stopped, the driver must have thought the van was unoccupied. Still struggling to get my shirt on I opened the door, setting the alarm off in the process. With the alarm still shrieking, an old guy got out of the car, obviously the worse for wear after sleeping off his night’s drinking.

His car, our van, the ground, everything was covered in a hard white frost, adding to the surreal nature of the situation. "My reversing sensors didn't see you!" the old guy countered to my adrenaline-fuelled fury, "There's no damage to you, I only hit the tyre on your bike".

Oblivious to the sub zero temperature I inspected his car. His rear quarter light was stove in, with a dent below, but I searched in vain to find a mark on our van. Eventually I found the point of impact - the car had gone underneath our rack and the tyre runner bolt had pierced his window!

Well, that's one type of reversing sensor!

No contact then!

After we had got over the initial shock and calmed down a bit, Sue took down his details and I took some photos. What a night - not what we were expecting! Needless to say it took a long time to get back to sleep again.

If we have anything to gain from this nightmarish experience, it is the wisdom to always park at the furthermost corner of the car park - which we generally do - but also to back the van in, thus protecting the rear from the traffic. Not only is a Fiat front bumper a lot easier to source and replace than a Rapido rear one, but with our rear bed our heads were inches away from the point of impact - a more violent collision could have caused us serious injury!

In the daylight we pulled off the bike cover and we could see that the whole rack had been bent and twisted sideways - it would have be renewed. Unfastening the bikes, they sprung off the runners like greyhounds from the trap - some indication of the forces involved!
Fortunately the bikes seemed ok, and an even greater relief was that amazingly there seemed to be no damage or distortion to the back wall of the van where the rack was attached.

I think there's been a little bit of stress here!

Aviva is the underwriter for our insurance and I spent a frustrating 20 minutes on an 0800 number (800 on mobiles) listening to jingles and recorded messages.
Eventually I got through and the make of car, plus the car’s owner and the insurance company were confirmed with the help of my photo of the back of his car.

Next I phoned Highbridge Motorhomes who were only 30 kms away. The Repair and Service Manager Steve said he would sort out a new rack for us and have a look at the rear wall when we arrived next day, but I would have to fit the rack myself as he had no work slots available until Monday.

Now there was really nothing to do except put the bikes back on the rack and retire to the pub! That night we had the place almost to ourselves, a comfy sofa and table in front of the fire had replaced the skittle table and we tucked into the most scrummy trio of local bangers and mash.

Might as well have a pint, then...

Ahh, that's more like it!

The Crown Inn is the hub of the local community and the quality and value of the food is exceptional. There is no telly in the bar, no piped muzak - just a blazing open fire, great food and beer and good conversation to which anyone is welcome to join in. It had started to feel like home and we miss it already.

The landlord was also a star. He had come out to have a look at the damage and taken his own photos in case there was any dispute with the driver, who was known to him. He checked the next day weather forecast and the road conditions for us online, and also disposed of our rubbish and allowed us to empty our loo into his cesspit.

7th December
We made an early start, and following the route advice received from locals in the Crown bar we made a painless exit back onto the A38, and indeed what now felt like the outside world!

As promised a new rack was waiting for us at Highbridge Motorhomes and Steve concurred with our view that the back of the van was undamaged. Refitting the new rack, I discovered that I needed a saw and a drill, but Steve sent out a fitter who did all that was required and finished off the job. Simon in Service Reception came up with the required invoice and was also good enough to email me a pdf copy to forward to Aviva.

I guess that's the end of that! 

GPS: 51.2265 N, 02.9675 W

From first class service back to the abysmal: I hung on the phone for an hour before getting though to anyone at Aviva, and then came away confused and irritated with conflicting advice on how to proceed with the claim, from someone who I could barely understand and didn’t seem to know what they were talking about - and for a 800 mobile network charge of £10.25! In contrast I had two polite and helpful unsolicited calls from NFU, the car owner’s insurance company, offering any assistance I might require, even including a courtesy vehicle!

However, with a sparkling new rack on the back and feeling that we had grasped victory from disaster once more, we hit the M5 and found our way to the A46, an old Roman Road, the Fosseway.

Now addicted to the sights, sounds and smells of a country pub in which to unwind from the day's travails, we pulled into the Thames Head Inn on the Tetbury Road, near Cirencester.

This inn looks the part and has a pleasant atmosphere inside, but the experience was immediately jarred when the landlord insisted on charging us £5 to stay in the car park, despite partaking of a meal. This we have found is now the exception rather than the rule and didn't go down well. To compound the contrast with the Crown I paid £13 for a fish pie that was no more than a bowl of goey potato and floury paste, lacking the desirable ingredient of a discernable amount of fish! Sue had a tasty and well presented pork steak with bacon and brie, but that and my pie, with a couple of pints and the parking fee came to £42. To add insult, the staff’s attitude was that my taste buds were the problem and everyone else loved it! Not a stopover that we would recommend other than when you are feeling desperate or rich, or both! 

Hope they've found some fish for the fish pie by now!

8th December
A crisp clear day lifted our spirits and we made our way to Lincolnshire to stay with family.

9th December

Sunday lunch at The Beck in Mablethorpe – quality catering at a furious pace and fantastic value.

GPS: 53.3436 N, 0.262655 E

10th December
On a visit to Boston, we purchased some Amazon Kindle Paperwhites from Waterstones. Ebook readers have evolved rapidly and this appears to be a superb bit of kit: light, simple to operate and with that all-important backlight to give the appearance of paper in any lighting condition. Though the screen is not perfect, as many reviewers have noted, it’s good enough for me, and now that pile of paperbacks can be left at home - and need never run out!

11th December
The mattress and memory foam from the Caravan and Boat Seat Cover Centre arrived as promised, the covers were exchanged and the new bed tested: Aaahh……

12th December
Another visit to Boston to dump the old mattress foam at the local recycling centre and post all the left over and surplus parts of the bike rack back home to neighbours.

We had booked a P&O ferry via the Caravan club website and now drove gingerly through heavy frost, via the Humber bridge to Hull, for our passage to Rotterdam.

13th December
As the ferry eased up the waterway, we marvelled at the sight of the vast industrial complex of Europort, a million sparkling lights against a reddening dawn sky. Having been shoehorned in backwards in front of a line of trucks, we were off in seconds after re-entering the van, showed our passports swiftly to a very cheery young Dutch customs officer and were on our way.

Sue had made a quick selection of German Christmas markets to visit after a bit of internet research, but we decided to have a look first at Xanten. It would be nice to make our first stopover a place we knew well and I was curious to see what kind of stab they made at the festive commerce!

The Arnhem Bridge, a bridge "too far" 68 years on

The temperature was still around freezing and we passed through Holland via the bridge “too far” at Arnhem, the scene of a epic military engagement in September 1944.

The first dusting of snow in Germany

Into Germany, the fields were white with a dusting of snow and when we arrived at Xanten I was presented with the first test of our new Michelin Agilis Camping tyres, a gently rising snow covered track into the Wohnmobil Park. These tyres have the now legally required, in Germany, M+S (Mud and Snow) marking, and coped with the ice and compacted snow well, including manoeuvring in and out of the service bay - very impressed so far, a vast improvement on the old Michelin Camping XC.

Safely pitched at Xanten's WoMo Park

GPS: 51.6541 N, 06.4632 E

Wrapped up well and dodging the patches of ice on the pavement, we ventured down to the Christmas market and it was everything we would have expected from Xanten. A little village of wooden huts was set up in the square, together with a large tepee floodlit with red and orange light. A show stage was also set up with lights and speakers; no one was performing but the strains of English carols and American rock music blended together across the roofs of the huts! 

Yeah... its all magical!

"Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens..."

A glass of Gluhwein a day keeps the cold away!

Outside the tepee, which contained a bar and a donner kebab outlet, happy drinkers were standing under wooden shelters, warmed by open fronted log braziers supported at chest height on steel posts. Every hut was decorated with lights, as were the numerous trees. Strangely, this enchanted little setting was thin on the crowds, but the cold was more bitter than we had estimated and after a stroll around all the stalls and a swift Gluwein we opted for the oven-like warmth of the Vecchio Teatro.  Here we had a superb pizza served by a formidable Italian speaking, German speaking, English speaking - Croatian waitress!

Next: we start our dedicated tour of the best German Christmas markets!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Dusseldorf Trip 2012 – The way home

1st September.
We could easily have stayed another day - we hadn’t tried out the electric bikes, or indeed the “Segways”, or indulged a few fantasies about a luxury megahome, but to be honest our feet and legs were wearing out and needed a break.

By common consent we decided to head back to Venlo via Kempen, a charming little town we had discovered on the way to Dusseldorf. At its centre is an old walled town, which goes back to the 13th Century and was once a centre of textile manufacturing. We had another stock up of essentials in the Edeka supermarket just outside the old walls - good quality, a wide selection and a good open car park!
GPS: 51.3619 N, 06.4177 E

Back at Venlo Jachthaven, Grey Herons could be glimpsed at the entrance to the marina, and large white geese wandered happily amongst the motorhomes. The geese give humans a wide berth, but when they squabble amongst themselves the noise is extraordinary and startling until you acclimatise.

If you wonder what the racket is - it's the geese!

We met up with Liz and Roger in the Brasserie de Admiral situated above a grassy bank above the marina. This bar/restaurant is replete with model yachts and nautical nick knacks, but the atmosphere is well crafted and welcoming. The patron is the local jester - don't ask him to take a photograph of your table! The menu was standard fare but well presented and we all ate well.

2nd September
We lingered another day at Venlo. As other vans left we shuffled ourselves over to the best corner by the picnic tables. A day for chilling out, I fitted our new cycle racks in warm, windless sunshine.

Picnic tables and BBQ included, along with excellent washrooms

We did not however visit the Floriade – Sue was disappointed when she later found out that this major exhibition of flowers and gardening is only held once every ten years, and changes its venue – like chancing upon Oberammergau in the right year of the decade and not seeing the passion play!

3rd September
We decided to head north and visit the ancient but small German town of Xanten.
Xanten’s main attraction is the relic of the Roman metropolis of Colonia Ulpia Traiana. The site is now an "archeological park", mostly covered by grass and shrubs, but with a re-created temple, amphitheatre, towers and baths on their original sites. The replicas are as near as possible to the original - indeed more are planned to help create the “feel” of Roman city life.

More in the present day, Xanten has a very pretty medieval town centre with an imposing cathedral, museums and two large man made lakes with a lido. In the summer it hosts a two week long classical music festival and even the annual German sandcastle building championships! 

The Wohnmobil Park is just five minutes walk from the pedestrianised centre of the town. It is more akin to a campsite than a stellplatz, situated in a gently sloping field on the edge of farmland, with an office, heated lounge, BBQ patio and kiddies play area. They (the town council) have plans to build a wellness spa and sauna on the site as well, though the charming and friendly manager assured me that the charges (10 euro + 2 for electric hookup) would remain the same...Hmm. You can also reserve a pitch in advance – tempted to put our names down for Christmas!

A handy and friendly place to stay in Xanten

GPS: 51.6541 N, 06.4632 E

Morning bread ordered and enjoying the produce of a visiting ice cream van, we walked into the town. It’s cute alright with a lovely central square surrounded by cafes, bars and restaurants, plus an organic bakery tucked inside a working windmill. After a beer and a pizza we called it a day.

The Gothic coffee shop on the square in Xanten

4th September
I went down early morning to the Reineke cycle shop, where a dear old guy changed both my cycle tyres for top of the range Schwalbe Marathon rubber and inner tubes for 77 euros – all done by midday as promised!

Mr Reineke gives a good service!

We had a look at the Roman metropolis and enjoyed a pedal around the lake. On one of the cycle paths is a plaque commemorating the bravery of two British RAF pilots who crashed near a village near by. A surprising find in Germany you might think, but this event happened after the war in 1971, when an RAF Canberra fighter bomber stalled over Luttingen. Foregoing the opportunity to use ejector seats the pilot heaved the aircraft away from the village, thus avoiding a major disaster, but giving up his own life and that of his navigator. The pilot was Keith Roland Holmes, the navigator Christopher King.

The memorial plaque to two RAF flyers

At the lido, we came across something we had never seen before, but I thought was brilliant. “Electric” water skiing might sound a bit risky but is in fact like a pommel ski lift that tows the skiers around a circuit of the lake. A group of young people on an organised outing were trying it out, some obviously for the first time, but a few were extremely accomplished, particularly on the boards, and made it look fabulous fun.

Water skiing the environmentally friendly way!

After all that activity and excitement we downed a couple of beers at the Vecchio Teatro, an Italian restaurant with a lovely ornate interior. The food looked excellent.

5th September
Still heading north we visited Anholt Castle at Wasserburg, a stately Baroque residence set in the middle of a lake surrounded by ornate gardens and landscaped parkland. Luckily for us we were the only visitors on our late morning tour, even luckier our guide spoke perfect English!

The restored Anholt Castle

The original castle was built in the 12th century in the then boggy area of the Rhine Delta, and then developed into a Baroque palace in the 1700’s. Virtually destroyed in the Second World War bombing, it has been painstaking restored over a period of 40 years at a cost of 8 million euros. The original castle now features lavish and remarkable furniture and artworks including a Rembrandt, that had presciently been stored in a shell proof mine before the bombing started. The castle extension and stables are now a 30 room hotel with 3 restaurants, and by the look of the tea time pastries, offer grub of a high culinary standard.

GPS: 51.8445 N, 06.4265 E
www.wasserburg-anholt.de (in German and French)

An overnight stop at Kleve

For our overnight stop we headed for the town of Kleve, where there is an aire on disused land opposite the rail station and in easy walking distance of the centre. It was fairly well occupied by Dutch and Germans when we arrived but we slotted into a place and soon found ourselves in deep discussion with a Dutchman on the subject of electric bikes!
4 euros per night plus 50c per Kwh on the electric meter. 
GPS:  51.7905 N, 06.1457 E

A totally different experience from the twee and prosperous Xanten, Kleve is undergoing a period of extensive regeneration. Opposite the aire, a huge old chemical factory complex is being torn down, and across the newly rebuilt bridge over the river a new hotel is rising.

Kleve on 13th February 1945

A wonderful bronze on the streets of Kleve today

Kleve has quite a history however, until the 1930’s it used to be spelled with “c” and if Cleve rings a bell, it should do because it is the birthplace of Anne of Cleves, wife to Henry the VIII. The town has been the capital of a county since the 11th Century and is dominated by a steep hill on which is perched the Schwanenburg, or Swan's Castle.

We crossed the rail bridge and wandered up the steadily rising shopping streets towards the towering castle. Apart from doing a circuit of the perimeter walls there is not much else to see as the building now houses Law courts and public offices.

The Zur Post Hotel and restaurant

As is now our habit, we had a beer on the street and then an excellent pork steak and chips at the “Zur Post” Hotel restaurant – though they gave us the wrong bill and forgot the change!
GPS: N 51.7851, 06.1355 E

6th September
Starting the trek home, we crossed the Rhine at Nijmegen and made our way into Belgium.

Now for somewhere to stay for the night….  Imagine rolling along a country lane in the late afternoon, long shadows in the lush green fields, a family of goats chewing contentedly and young ponies chasing around a paddock just for the joy of it. Suddenly there is the scent of wood smoke in the air and you think... wouldn't it be great to stop for the night around here, maybe grab a bite to eat from a farmhouse?
And there is the 't Brigandje, an unprepossessing, single storey painted brick farmhouse with a large carpark, and a broken, battered sign advertising beer.

What you won't expect as you pass inside is a pristine rural idyll of solid wooden beamed ceilings, exposed brick and stone fireplaces and dark stone flagged floors, all beautifully and elegantly decorated with evocative paintings and even some medieval stained glass probably rescued from a church. 

There is warm chatter and laughter mingling with the nostril-twitching smell of fresh meat roasting on a wood grill, that long day on the road seems about to come to a perfect end…

The beautiful and evocative decor of  't Brigandje

Actually it didn't quite happen like that, we plucked the location of 't Brigandje from the Camperstop guide, but the joy of finding such a superb and atmospheric restaurant in the middle of the Belgian countryside was undiminished, particularly as we thought our sat-nav was throwing a wobbler, taking us out on a wild goose chase!

Oak beams and stone flags...

After saying hello and a wash and brush up, we relaxed with a gin and tonic and settled on a T bone steak (Côte-à l'os) with fries and a pepper sauce, washed down with a bottle of Montepulciano. Despite the steaks overhanging the edge of a large dinner plate, Sue squeezed in some mouth watering passion fruit sorbet and I had a wonderfully light and cinnamon rich apple tart with vanilla ice cream.

The bill for this indulgence came to a very reasonable 77 euro. Considering the quality of the perfectly cooked and seasoned steak, and that we were in Belgium, we thought it was bargain. You might get a shock if you order the pork ribs - ready yourself for half the ribcage of a small pig! (you have to cut the ribs yourself).

We retired with the scent of new mown grass flowing through our open window and slept the sleep of the over indulged and privileged.
GPS:  51.1681 N, 03.4722 E

The perfect end to a perfect meal

7th September
A beautiful and peaceful night was not marred by the new day either, it dawned fine, warm and sunny and we continued our trek back to Dunkerque. We stopped off at Gravelines again, pumped and dumped at the new service aire (credit cards only) and had a brief nap before catching the DFDS Seaways ferry at 23.59

8th September
It was an uneventful passage, and we got some well needed sleep in the usual place on Dover seafront. Another fine sunny morning, stopping off at Fleet services on the M3. This time we didn’t make the same mistake as we did at MOTO services M5 Exeter on the way out…

Waiting on the doormat when we got home was a payment demand of £90 or 113 euros for overstaying our 2 hour welcome at Moto Exeter!!  (Number plate recognition camera shots included). So much for “Take a break – tiredness kills! 

I don’t know why they are allowed to get away with such a money making scam when it’s so obviously counter to safety advice. The charge was reduced to £50 or 63 euros for coughing up within 14 days, but it didn’t alleviate the pain much. Imagine if we had been caught unknown on the way out for a long trip - by the time we returned the bailiffs would have been at the door for unpaid fines! You (as they say) have been warned!

The Fox and Hounds, Charlton Adam

Our pitch for the night was the Fox and Hounds, Charlton Adam, Somerton. This is actually a Caravan Club CL, but in good stopover fashion the Landlord waived the £3.50 fee when we said we were coming in for a meal. There is a large gravel car park and a grassed area, but we pitched at the far end of the gravel.  We had an excellent dinner of duck, and a quiet night.
GPS: 51.0572 N, 02.6557 W

9th September
Oh what a beautiful morning – clear skies, crisp air, cool sunshine, sparkling dew on the grass. I walked around this lovely little village, taking photographs, chatting to the solitary horsewoman enjoying the same early morning peace.

Sunday morning gossip.....

The quintessential Somerset village

Our last stop of the trip was Dawlish, to meet up with Sue’s family at Teignmouth. This time we stayed at Lockwood House, a Camping and Caravanning Club Certificated Site. This was handy for the bus into Teignmouth, but apart from one flat piece of hardstanding is a fairly sloping site and we struggled to get flat on our blocks, even with the aid of some wood planks we were offered. 
GPS: 50.6042 N, 03.4651 W

10th September
A pleasant day in Teignmouth. We had lunch at Drakes restaurant, then got the little ferryboat across to Shaldon on the other side of this natural harbour formed at the river’s mouth. Then a walk back over the bridge to the car park, before picking up some scones and cream at The Co-op, for our own cream tea back at the family’s holiday flat.

The little ferry across the mouth of the river Teign

11th September
Another night at Lockwood house, before driving home via Plymouth.

All in all a great trip – we look forward to doing the Dusseldorf show again, there was so much to see that we didn’t manage to and the atmosphere generated by so many motorhomers from all over the continent was something to enjoy. Hopefully, we can get away soon, even back to Germany for Christmas!

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Dusseldorf trip 2012 - The Caravan Salon

The Düsseldorf Caravan Salon is Europe's largest motorhome and caravan show, held in the Messe Düsseldorf, a huge complex of 19 exhibition halls and a Congress Centre built alongside the brown waters of the Rhine and a short train journey from the city's heart.

This year the show ran from 25th August to the 2nd September. It is primarily an event for the movers and makers of the motorhome industry - indeed when you buy your ticket it will say “Trade Visitor” on it, and in fact there is only one hall, for accessories, in which you can actually buy anything!

However, that doesn't stop thousands of members of the motorhoming owning fraternity coming to see this vast display (stretching over 9 halls) of every major continental make of motorhome and many component manufacturers - from all the popular base vehicle manufacturers to suppliers of cabinet fittings and plastic mouldings. Some of the more extreme motorhomes will boggle your mind in size and scale, as will the sheer quantity of motorhomes, caravans and campers to inspect.

Imagine arriving at your local campsite in this!

28th August 
There is nothing to stop you using the huge Messe site as a base for visits to the city, once you have had your fill of the show you can easily purchase another day’s camping by seeing one of the many stewards milling around.

There are excellent toilets and shower blocks near the service area and an entertainment marquee, so it’s quite possible to behave as in a normal campsite, albeit “getting on your bike” for certain functions if you are parked a long way away. A trip in the van to the motorhome service area can be a bit long winded however, depending on the circulating traffic, and you would need to leave someone to stop your space being taken by an arriving camper.

Open hard standing near the service area 

On the Messe company website (www.messe-dusseldorf.com ) there is a 360 degree panorama over the complex and you can even take a virtual helicopter tour - if you have the bandwidth to spare! There is a supermarket, a doctor’s surgery and a host of other services, together with an underground station with connections to the airport and central train station. The website is also a very useful guide to Dusseldorf city itself – there is a lot to see!

There is more about the exhibition on the organisers website (www.caravan-salon.de), all of the facilities and an interactive hall plan where you can track down the stand of any particular exhibitor, if you want to pre-plan your visit.

The numerous food halls serve food of excellent quality and in large portions, and there are open air beer stalls where you can relax in the central square.

As you enter the Messe off the A44 there are four lanes of traffic, the two right hand ones have a picture of motorhomes on the digital display on the overhead gantry. If you want to drive straight onto a pitch its best to take the right hand one as the left one feeds into the right - as we found out as we queued in the after 1600 rush, some drivers can be reluctant to give way in turn.

I guess he's ready for anything!

If you need to "pump and dump" there is a signposted service area to the left. Here you will be whistled through with the aid of blue gloved assistants who will find and operate your waste tank dump valve and fill your water tank. I think they may draw the line though at toilet cassette emptying!

A very efficient service!

In the same area there is a ticket and information office where you can buy show tickets in advance. Pitch tickets with electric hookup can be requested in this office, but other pitch tickets can only be bought on arrival from attendant stewards - who will allocate you to spot of their choosing!

As we arrived, we pumped and dumped and waited for Liz and Roger, who toed their van in behind us. There was then a bit of a Germanic fight in the queue as the three lanes merge into one and we thus got split up - they were eventually shown a pitch on a different field. We all ended up nose to tail and under the trees – so much for using the solar panel!

Nose to tail under  the trees!

The pitches with electric hookup are only available on fields 13 and 14 (800 vans) and are closer to the Caravan centre with the entertainment marquee, information kiosk and van service, but none are more than a reasonable walking distance away. According to the official website there are 1200 spaces without hookup, but on our visit I reckon there were many more campers than that - and still fields to spare.

At the time of writing the price for an electric pitch was 22 euros and 15 without, differing from the 30 euros/15 euros shown on the website. Differently to campsites, you pay for the day, nights are free between 1600 and 0800, which gives a bit more flexibility to your arrangements. It is not possible to pre-book for pitches and no motorhomes will be allowed in after 2200.

The free shuttle bus service to the main show complex runs every 5 minutes to and from the parking areas until 1930. There are stops at the end of every field, so your position doesn't really make much difference.

Get used to low flying aircraft....every five minutes!

The only real downside to the site is that it is directly under the flight path from Dusseldorf  - which probably explains why it's been put there in the first place! The noise from the planes taking off and landing is thunderous and continuous, making conversation outside virtually impossible for a few seconds every five minutes or so. Thankfully it stops late evening, but only until 0500, when all but the heaviest sleepers will be jettisoned out of their slumbers by a large aircraft just overhead! Those of a nervous disposition might want to consider two other campsites that are listed on www.caravan-salon.de

We eventually spent three days in the actual exhibition halls, and still felt we could have seen more. There are opportunities to try stuff out like electric bikes and “Segways” (those sci-fi looking two wheeled people transporters) which could easily soak up another day.

Finding an exhibitor on a stand who spoke English was sometimes a problem, and only the larger makers had brochures in English, but we had some very useful discussions with component suppliers, who knew their stuff inside out.

The next show runs from 31st August to 8th September 2013

29th August
Our first day at the show.  On the huge Hymer stand there was a cutaway van, in which you could see all the intricacies of construction. All the major van/truck manufacturers were there in force – Fiat, Mercedes, Iveco, Renault, Ford and it was interesting to see the various construction methods of the base vehicle chassis.

Every motorhome manufacturer had a huge range of vans on display, and if you’ve ever wanted a look in some of these fabulous truck based homes like Concorde, here’s your chance. The range of panel van conversions was also exceptional, both in their quality and variation, something for every taste and some brilliantly innovative ideas, though at the top end costing as much as a luxury coachbuilt.

Now, that's what I call a garage!

We have always loved our Rapido, but have often felt that they have lost the plot a bit in the years since we bought ours - too many design changes, often not thought through or tested properly, though that criticism could be levelled at almost all the major manufacturers. Many say Hymer are not what they were. Our verdict was that Frankia currently holds the crown for quality design and construction and solid practicality and value.

Thinking seriously about electric bikes (lighter and more flexible in usage than a motorbike or scooter, environmentally sound – charge up with your solar panel!) we came across Flyer bikes, a Swiss firm making very expensive but very desirable electric bikes. You can order virtually any permutation of their seemingly endless specifications and indeed try them out on site.

http://www.flyer.ch/ (Unfortunately most of the website is in German – google translate to the rescue!)

We had a large and excellent lunch in one of the many food halls, and in the evening some wonderful roast pork butties for dinner from one of the market type stalls outside the entertainment marquee. I think the Germans can vie with the Americans for the size of their portions!

Beer, chat and chips in the Marquee

Inside the large marquee, there was another food outlet set up with a fairly varied menu of fast food (which changes daily). The band was loud and not particularly memorable, but the whole atmosphere was one of happy, family fun, seated at the long benches under the colourful roof. Drinks are ordered from your table.

30th August
The second day. We were intrigued with the concept of Notin motorhomes, this company builds its own A Class and coachbuilt bodies, but will fit out the interior with a design of your specification. They offer basic designs, but basically anything is possible (for a price obviously) and you can go to them with anything from a sketch on the back of an envelope to a finished CAD drawing and they will adapt and incorporate your ideas. Some unusual “standard” features they offer include exclusive electric opening windows complete with electric blank shutters that make a great security option, and also some good domestic size shower trays, of which we are definitely in favour.

This time we only managed a sandwich and salad for lunch as we were still digesting the previous day’s!

Let the outside in with the Challenger Prium XL

One of the most innovative vans we saw was the Challenger Prium XL, also marketed by the parent Trigano Group as the Chausson Sweet Maxi. From the electrically raising and lowering central bed, to the massive “wing” opening side door, the vertical storing bike rack and locker, to the fitted exterior gas griddle cooker that folded out of the side – it was certainly the most “out of the box” design we came across and one that actually worked. Sue was very taken, but I thought it more of the perfect weekend activity van rather than a long term travelling vehicle – though it had a commendable amount of storage space.

Get your burgers here!


We finished off the day with more beer in the tent and some weird Greek dish of fried Chicken bits (I think) with Tzatziki and chips. Because of the racket from the band we moved outside but struggled to find a seat, eventually grabbing one under a canopy out of the drizzle. Shortly the heavens opened and a bunch of burly Germans started snuggling up, in fact shoving us so vigorously up the bench to get some shelter, we nearly felt too cosy!
It soon appeared that their English was far better than our German and we started chatting about touring in Germany. The guy next to me turned out to be in charge of the Concorde stand (mega motorhomes) and invited us for coffee next day – an offer that unfortunately we ran out of time to take up.

31st August
Third day. This was the day for the accessories halls and trying to track down some elusive spare parts. I managed to identify and even purchase (unofficially) some plumbing components and we spent a long time gazing at satellite equipment and LED lighting. Some stands were strictly trade only and were roped off to the public but many others had English speakers and were only too happy to chat and inform about their products. If you want to learn about the Styrofoam that goes into the walls of your van, or how the latest heating systems and fuel cells work, you can get an answer here, even if they offer to send you an answer by email. Getting an English brochure was also tricky but a few of the major firms produced something.
Lunch was a superb piece of poached salmon with white wine sauce - the standard of food in the halls was very high, though the Jaeger Schnitzel we had for dinner in the tent tasted like the chicken and chips we had the night before (or perhaps it was the beer!).

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed the show experience and would definitely come again. if you have a particular focus, you will see what you need to see and find out what you need to know - if you are just looking, you could be there for the whole duration!

All is organised with Germanic  efficiency, as you might expect - ticketing, food, shuttle buses, only the pitch allocation became a bit haphazard at the peak afternoon arrival time.

If you can't stand the sound of low flying planes overhead, then you might want of travel in from elsewhere, but to be honest the only bother it was to us was to wake us up early and slightly disrupt our happy hours! 

The next show runs from 31st August to 8th September 2013