Sunday, 30 October 2011


Blaarmeersen is the name of the campsite where we parked.  Since this is only my second experience, Wales being the first, I'm not sure I can rate it fairly.  Also, it was nearing the end of the season.  

We decided however, after finding it wasn't just us that struggled with these issues, that they really should spend more money on increasing the areas of hard-standing and on more places to access electricity.  Other than this, I thought it was a lovely location - quite suburban, actually - and pretty convenient to visit the places we wanted to go.

Apartment life is far more common in Europe than
in Britain or the US, obviously.  We thought these
looked very pleasant, overlooking the canals, the woods, etc.

As I mentioned before, Carrefour tended to be our main food source (certainly not the shop on the site, which had ree-dik-u-lus prices!) but food still cost more than I expected. 

We never did manage to cycle into Ghent when the market was on in the main square as we intended, so perhaps the location wasn't so convenient for everything

Blaarmeersen was much more than a campsite, however, it was a sort of all round fitness centre, with running paths (the TrimTrak), rowing, cycling and even a velodrome, for track cycling. Bill said he was only vaguely aware of this when he booked.  We came to realise that it was in fact a very nice community resource aimed at keeping people active in some way and it was well used by the local population for all sorts of sports.

I loved these little 'jungle gyms' scattered around the TrimTrak.  These,
together with the signage, made me think of faeries.  Then again,
I probably had faeries on the brain...

We thought maybe the name meant 'blue lakes' or something, there were several lakes on site, but I now know that 'meersen' is Dutch for marshes - very apt!  The fact that blaar means 'blister' is probably neither here nor there.

We were given tourist brochures and a map of the TrimTrak upon arrival, but I confess that I never did master the whole TrimTrak route.  It was only about 5K (c. 3 and a bit miles?) once you were on it but we're not talking a circle here, rather like hidden paths - some paved, often not - weaving between different features on the site.  However, once found, it was really lovely.  There was a day or two when I thought I was having shin splints or over-use injury from walking on the famed cobbled streets and so rested up.  Other than then I walked or jogged on the TrimTrak most days when we didn't go sight-seeing. 

Bill told me these were 'coots'; as in bald as a...  Instead they look like
they are wearing cute little hats, that's what I think anyhow.

Bill, on the other hand, went for a run every morning (leaving me in peace with my coffee) and even found a half marathon to do one weekend.  After he got back and showered we went along and watched some of the slower folks painfully trudging their way in at the end of a marathon.

I learned a couple of things on this trip relating to motorhome life, one of which was that the adage 'location, location, location' applies equally to non-stationary abodes.  Our camping area was a square off which there were little alcoves surrounded by hedge - 10 or twelve along three sides.  We tried a couple of places but the mud was a problem in one, the electrical hook-up a hindrance in another.  We ended up in the South West corner under some huge oak trees. 

In hot weather this would have been advantageous but it was typically autumnal, with some rainy days but on the whole more bright ones and moderately warmish temperatures.

However, the sun never invaded our corner, clothes didn't dry, our box felt damp without the heat on.  Acorns fell on the roof a few times, scaring me to death til I learned what it was.  Invariably the clatter came when Bill was out and I was half convinced I was under siege until a neighbour complained to Bill about being woken in the night by this.  We, on the other hand, were woken one night by a leak in the roof at the foot of the bed!  We subverted the water with a bin bag and my trusty duct tape (for a craft project) and got back to sleep comfortably.  Fortunately, Bill was able to patch it and all was fine in that respect for the rest of the trip. 

The three  'hot' slots on the north side (south-facing) of the square were all occupied by clever Brits who were there for a week or so.  Whilst I huddled inside with a sweater or two, they were out sun-bathing.  No lie.

They did move on and we could have spent our second week on the sunny side, but we stayed put.  Should the occasion arise again, I know Bill and I will both agree it's worth the trouble to move, but on this trip the complications we'd already had around electrical power didn't seem to merit the hassle.   I fully admit that it was my own fault that I was cold; had I relocated to one of the many benches around the lakes nearby, I could have sat in the sun.  I just stubbornly wanted to be warm at 'home' and that didn't happen.

The other thing I learned was that cooking in a very confined space loses its charm within a few days.  We had plenty to eat, but deciding what and how to cook it, on the stove or in the microwave, to best effect and frugal approach, seemed rather tedious after a long day of walking. 

I made the mistake of opening several tins and mixing some beans and veg together which was fine for the first night, but by the third day Bill was fed up with that dish and I was not enjoying playing house in the box as much as before.  Part of the problem was that I delegated stocking the kitchen to Bill before we left. He was just hanging around wanting something to do, having packed his clothes and everything else about a month before, so I handed him my list. A mistake, as it turned out, but I don't really blame him. He was too excited to concentrate on the list and so we got loads of some things and none of others.    Another thing was that I hadn't planned in any more detail than I normally do for my full-sized kitchen and that just won't do.  Meal times were a little stressful, but we didn't starve by any means.

These are all problems that experience and planning can solve.  I now have input from experienced caravaner, cousin Sharon, which I will go back and study come spring.  I will enjoy making my lists of ingredients and menus then and I will stock the van myself.  Bill does all the other planning around our trips, I could hardly complain about making this small contribution.  

We did not eat in restaurants much and that is our plan for future as well.  After all, the main advantage of taking your own bed and kitchen is the savings one makes from food and lodging.  There was a restaurant on the site, but all from all reports, the prices were just as high as the exclusive places in Ghent city centre and the food was less than average in quality, so we that wasn't the temptation it might have been.

Funny thing is, I had similar problems with my clothing, though I packed it all myself.  I did pack very light, with only items for one week, true.  But I found myself wearing the same brown cardigan for the whole trip, entirely forgetting that a plum coloured one was folded up on my shelf, waiting, along with several scarves I completely forgot I'd brought.  I'd made lists to pack and check that everything went together and then didn't bring those lists of outfits, thinking I could dress myself without them.  Wrong.  I don't know if it was being cold or tired or what, but the brain was definitely on strike.  Next trip, I bring lists!  Lots of lists!  Then brain can stay at home and not be missed!

Neither of us could make it far on this plank, hung at each end on a chain. 
The next day we watched a kid waltz across like it was terra firma, naturally.

On a positive note, there were little cosmetic things that needed addressed  or gadgets  still to figure out.  Bill happily spent a few days tinkering with these issues and was in the main highly successful.  As we managed to buy well within the budget we set for purchasing the motorhome, if there are things left that he can't fix himself, we still have a fund to pay for repairs.

I was nervous about him taking things apart, but discovered that he actually did manage to put them back together, so I began to relax and trust him to make things better rather than worse. A huge relief and very impressive, I might add. I refuse to consider voluntarily replacing this van until we have got full use of it.  What we've agreed so far is that we wouldn't wish for more space, only more modern versions of the same, though we did admire the sleek modernity of this little van.  Their kitchen made us think of a centre island arrangement in a normal house!  Many of the rigs that passed through our area had those horrible disk aerials on them, not a feature either of us has the least interest in obtaining, thankfully.

So far as we can estimate what lodging and food would have cost us this trip without the motorhome; and given that we bought at the older, cheaper end of the market - for cash of course, it shouldn't  take too many trips before it pays for itself.  Then we'll see where we go from there.

Also, as a comparison, for our two weeks in Belgium we spent just under half what we spent for ten days in Italy, staying in hotels/B&Bs and eating out.  I really enjoyed our last Italian adventure, but look forward to trying this different mode of travel some more, for a while at least.

1 comment:

Rick Stone said...

Oh, rememberances of being a novice RVer. We originally bought used, and old, because of the learning curve. Figured if we screwed something up we really didn't have that much invested. Drove that 1989 model, 34 foot coach for four years and pretty much got our moneies worth. We sure enjoy having our own bed and toilet where ever we go and not have to worry about who used the hotel room the previous night.