A Bay, a baby and us

Many of our friends and relatives thought we were crazy when we first announced our dream summer holiday – spending the whole of August with our Bus, ‘Miss Marmalade’ touring the countrysides of Germany.  The many raised eyebrows and shaken heads did not, however, refer to the age and comfort of our dear Bus (not this time, at least) but rather to the latest arrival in the Saunders’ family, our little baby, Elvis. Only five weeks old at the outset of the journey, he was to almost double his age by our return.  Would a 34-year old Bus be able to charm its way into such a small and delicate little heart?  And, while having to look after both Bus and baby, would we actually be able to enjoy the proposed journey?

At this point, it might be worth explaining a little more about the reasons behind the idea.  Some of you may remember us from the ‘Star Letter’ in the November ’09 issue, in which we introduced our wedding present – our lovely 1977 Westfalia, ‘Miss Marmalade’, and described our fantastic honeymoon with her to Rome.  Many of the wedding guests, who generously contributed to making this dream present come true were from Germany, as I am German myself, and we had promised at the time to come and visit them one day with our Bus.  As they live quite widely spread all over the country, we soon realised that a normal two-week holiday would not suffice.  And with the little one on its way, a more ambitious plan emerged – we could make use of my maternity leave and Bruce’s self-employment to make a whole month of it! And surely the little one couldn’t but love what had in three years become our absolute favourite way of spending a holiday?

So, leaving the many words of warning aside, we followed our gut instinct and set off on Monday August 1 for Harwich, to catch the ferry to Hook of Holland.

Having been saved by Kieft en Klok’s knowledgable team and immaculate customer service almost two years ago during a holiday in France, we had always wanted to visit them in their workshop in Renkum, Holland., so made this the first port of call on our journey.  And what a workshop it is! Tucked away in amongst low-density bungalows, a rather small entrance opens up into a large yard lined with workshop buildings, and everywhere full of old VWs, in every style and colour imaginable.  After having thoroughly enjoyed a tour of the site while sipping a cup of coffee and stocked up on spares for the trip, we bade farewell and left for Germany, feeling very well prepared for the many miles ahead.

Friends and family
With the nature of our holiday being a mix of visiting friends and family and choosing campsites in between those destinations, we had set out a rough route that would take us north first, and then clockwise around the country via the main mountain ranges and sceneries.  Not only would it be important to find the right balance between covering distance and spending quality time with friends, but also alternating the days and nights spent with our generous and welcoming hosts with more private evenings around our own campfire. Most importantly of all, we had to figure out how this balance would work for Elvis, taking in so many new and exciting things every day.  For a baby his age, sleep is crucial, so we figured that as long as we resolve where and how he slept, all should be good with everything else.

Miss Marmalade, being a Californian tin-top Campmobile, had the perfect place for him at night – right next to our 3/4 rock ‘n’ roll bed, on top of the cool box and storage compartment, which just happens to be exactly the same height as the folded-out bed, so would work just like a bedside cot. It couldn’t have been designed better if it was made for the job.

For the long drives in between, we invested in a lie-flat car seat, conveniently fastened with the existing lap-belt system, and doubling as a pushchair.  It was hard to tell whether it was the comfort of the seat, or the steady and reassuring sound of Miss Marmalade’s engine, but it worked a treat and Elvis slept through most of the drives like an angel.

After visiting some friends in Bonn, we set off northwards to our first German campsite in the Lüneburger Heide, and then headed further north towards Lübeck and Hamburg to see some family.  At this point, the beautiful German summer I had promised Bruce didn’t turn out to be quite as glorious as I remembered it.  In fact, no night passed without the newly-bought sun awning being filled with rainwater, and temperatures weren’t quite at the sandals and ice cream mark.  Still, we stuck to our intial idea of spending every night in the Bus, even though we were generously offered spare rooms, sofas and guest beds.  Focussing on making this trip as comfortable as possible for Elvis, our theory was that as long as he had some sort of bedtime routine and slept each night in the same bed, he should be able to cope with the overwhelming amount of new experiences each day.  And so, many wonderous neighbours and curious passers-by were treated to the sight of a beautiful vintage Bus parked on the street or driveway that, on closer inspection, would turn out to be full of (often very audible) little life.

Rain, and more rain
After spending a day in Hamburg’s prestigous Hafencity, we decided the following morning it was time to head for the Baltic Sea. Having found a seaside pitch in a characterful East German campsite, we set up camp in the sunshine and stocked up for our first fire and BBQ.  Unfortunately, in our excitement and anticipation, we paid little attention to the increasingly strong breeze from the sea, nor did we see the dark clouds coming in… So indoor dinner it was, once again. This mix of sunshine and rain followed us around for the next week, via the beautiful Schweriner Lake to Berlin where we stayed at the brilliant campsite Tentstation while visiting friends from my student years, and into  the beautiful mountain ranges of the Harz.  Overlooking a lake in the endless rain, I was forced eventually to answer some serious questions about the whereabouts of the wonderful summer I had promised.  But, the following evening, we were sitting around our first proper fire, while visiting relatives in a wonderful old farmhouse in a tiny village in eastern Germany.

Full of hope, we carried on into the stunningly beautiful scenery of the Ore Mountains, but it wasn’t until we left Germany and headed southwards through the Czech Republic that we finally left the heavy weather behind.  Czech roads certainly aren’t blessed with a generous spread of road signs, and what was meant as a short cut to the Bavarian Forest turned into a very entertaining treasure hunt.  But the good weather was with us now, as were Bruce’s (so very British) comments on excessive heat.  Leaving Viechtach, where we had met my aunt at a campsite, for the Alps, we arrived in the early afternoon at what would become our favourite campsite of the trip, Camping Zellersee near the Chiemsee.  Tucked away in a stunning mountain setting, and on the shores of its own beautifully clear lake, this place seemed almost too good to be true.  A delicious BBQ with an old friend of mine formed the perfect end to a brilliant day, thankfully not spoilt by the stone avalanche that came down very near us, but was fortunately absorbed by the many trees surrounding the site.

Bedtime routine
So far, Elvis had been the most easy-going baby imaginable, putting up with rain, wind, heat and even his first dips into a freezing cold mountain lake, and had been sleeping like an angel every night.  The only constant element in his daily routine had been the evening bath, which he absolutely loved, but on this night we skipped it, and were punished immediately by a very unhappy baby.  He absolutely wasn’t going to sleep, no matter what, so at 5am two very tired parents took baby, bath and towel down to the wash house.  Needless to say, within minutes of our return he was fast asleep, and we haven’t missed a bath time since.

From Zellersee, we headed west, visiting some relatives in a mountain village near Garmisch-Patenkirchen, and continuing on up to what would be our penultimate campsite of the trip, another lakeside setting overlooking the romantic Castle Neuschwanstein. We only had 1 1/2 weeks left, which were spent visiting family at Lake Constance, near Tübingen, Stuttgart and in the Black Forest, before stopping at my parents’ house in the Palatinate, where we stocked up on food and wine and gave the Bus a well-deserved service.
The local VW garage was so excited about seeing our Bus that they hunted down a noise that had been bothering us for a while whenever going downhill in gear, and repaired it all for free!

Far too soon, it was time to head for home, and with only one more friend to visit in Frankfurt, and one more campsite to choose before the ferry crossing in Holland, we were all feeling rather sad that our adventure was coming to an end.  As if to bid us farewell, after two weeks of stunningly good weather, the rain returned and washed us all the way back across the Channel to Harwich, with only one thought in mind – when are we going to do this again?

Best holiday imaginable
Having received lots of warnings and well-meant advice before setting out on this trip, we would like to pass on only encouragement to any of you who may be thinking about a similar adventure.  Not only did we have the best holiday imaginable, with Miss Marmalade not missing a beat, we also had the most amazing four weeks together as a new little family.  Rather than spending those precious first weeks at home, where daily routine so easily takes over one’s life, we had the time and setting to really get to know our little baby, who absolutely loved our travelling life.  Of course, much credit needs to go to our lovely hosts, who helped us so generously, and without whom the trip wouldn’t have been nearly as special.

The conclusion of the story? In our experience, babies and Buses do mix, and they do so very well!

Rules of the roads

Fuel: Fuel was definitely one of the biggest expenses of the holiday.  Overall, I think we spent around £700 on petrol, but we never dared add it up properly.  We paid between €1.37 and €1.56 per litre, but noted that it was much cheaper in the north east of Germany than in the south west.

Garages: Luckily, we didn’t encounter many as we didn’t have any emergencies or breakdowns.  The garage that did the service and repair, as mentioned in the story, were brilliant and we would definitely recommend them:

Autohaus Henzel
Mutterstadt GmbH
An der Fohlenweide 3
67112 Mutterstadt

Tel: 06234/92620
Fax: 06234/926270
Mail: info@henzel-automobile.de 

 

Roads: Driving in Germany is pretty easy and inexpensive as there are no toll roads.  We tried to avoid motorways as much as possible, simply because we like to stick to a lower speed due to Miss Marmalade‘s excessive fuel consumption above 55mph, and because we prefer to take in scenic routes and country lanes.  There were some awesome routes through the Harz and Ore Mountains and the Alps, and the book of maps we bought (we like it old style, no sat nav for us) that highlighted scenic routes was worth every penny.

Our one piece of advice would be to check your map carefully when wanting to cross the river Rhein as there is quite a long stretch south of Bonn with no bridges, so you have to catch a ferry to cross.  Yes, we did get caught out on that, but it turned out to be a rather fun experience.

Campsites

(we can recommend them all, prices for bus, 2 adults and a baby):

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