vicki's france to amsterdam
RVing Europe—France, Chamonix to Strasbourg: And a little bit of Germany, Amsterdam and London—July, 2011
(Mark and Vicki have spent 19 of the last 25 months RVing in Europe. They are taking a break now until June, 2012, caring for a new granddaughter in California, among other things. You can contact them at email@example.com)
We have been to Chamonix many times and still find it a glorious place. The camperstop is the Aiguille du Midi cable car parking lot N 45 55 9 E6 52 8 with water and dump for 12.5E a day. It is right in town and your parking ticket gives you free rides for 2 on the entire valley bus system. The TI has very good information on the many hikes and do not miss the Saturday (and I think Wednesday) market with some of the best poulet roti in Europe. Last year when we left the parking lot the machine would not take our credit card nor our cash so we finally gave the cash to another RVer and he paid with his credit card. We had the same problem again this year but no one was around. The intercom worked and after several tries the man told us to just drive to the gate, buzz him there, and he would let us out--thus saving 50E! So don't be too quick to find someone else's credit card if you park there.
We had planned to go to Lyon but after rereading the guidebooks decided it wasn't worth having to go to a campground, especially since it was out of our way. We took the non toll road to Bourg en Bresse and stayed at the camperstop N46 11 55 E5 14 12 which is actually in the adjoining village of Brou. The camperstop is at the cathedral which is flamboyant Gothic and recently cleaned and beautiful. We had come here to have again the famous Bresse chicken. We ate a lovely but fairly expensive menu (30E but 5 courses with the extras they brought out) right across from the front facade. Mark found out you can also buy this famous chicken at the Carrefour. We skipped the interior of the cathedral, which is very late Medieval.
Next stop was Cluny. There is not much left to see of the famous Abbey but it is a pleasant town to wander and most history buffs wouldn't want to miss it. There is camper parking, and I assume overnights are allowed right by the wall at N46 26 03 E4 39 45. This was not in our book. We stumbled across it on our walk but the signs clearly said camper only parking, by order of the police.
A short drive brought us in mid afternoon to the Autun camperstop on the lake N46 57 19 E4 19 0 right across from McDonald's with their free wifi and a short walk from the Roman amphitheater. The camperstop was fine but noisy with all the road traffic. It is 2.1k from the marvelous free 11th century Romanesque cathedral with its famous sculptures. Be sure to not miss the capital sculptures that are up the stairs in the chapter house. We drove to the Cathedral and found parking close by (very unusual) at N46 56 44 E4 18 01. There was probably a bus from the camperstop but we didn't bother to try to figure it out as we also wanted to drive out to the Janus temple.
From Autun we took the wine route to Beaune and stayed in their terrific free camperstop N47 1 2 E4 50 11. Though officially only 6 spots, those are the ones with access to electric at $5.50 for 4 hrs! There are 6 additional parking ones. It is a very short walk to the beautiful historic center. Mark visited a cave for the 10E tasting tour (13 wines, some grand crus) while I window shopped and then we went through the ancient and very famous Hospital. The large supermarket is also within walking distance so it would be a great place to stay a few days.
We drove into Colmar in mid afternoon but the only camper parking we found was at N48 04 55 E7 21 33 and had a 4hr limit and almost 10E for 4 hrs. We decided to move on to Riquewihr north of Colmar. Riquewihr is one of the most picturesque of towns in the Alsace, and, though touristy, it is beautiful and the architecture superb. The camperstop at N48 9 57 E7 18 6 is right at the entrance to the old town. 3E for 4 hours during the day and 4E after 6pm to spend the night. We thought it well worth the visit. The next morning we headed back to Colmar and spent our full 4 hours seeing the wonderful museum, having flambeed onion tart for lunch and walking the city. Really 5 hours would be better as the museum is well worth extra time, and we felt rushed.
Heading for Germany just over the border we stayed at a brand new camperstop in Hornbach for 5E with 1E water and electric at N49 11 02 E7 21 57. The next day we spent driving the Mosel valley as far as Bernkastel stopping in Neumagen-Dhron along the way to buy wine and browse. Turning northwest we aimed at Aachen to see the cathedral after spending the night in a layby at N50 44 13 E6 06 36 approx. Knowing that wild camping was not allowed in Belgium or the Netherlands we headed for one of the scarce camperstops in Belgium near Eupen over the dam. N0 37 20 E6 05 27. No services but a lovely natural area with trails that would be a nice place to relax for a couple of days for a break. We got to Aachen the next morning and actually found parking very near the cathedral—at 10am Sunday. I think any other time or day one would have to park on the outskirts and find a bus. The cathedral didn't open until 12:30, but well worth the wait. It dates from the 8th century and is among the oldest structures of Medieval Europe.
There was still time to get to Cologne where we parked on the street near the end of the tram line and took it downtown to the Dom stop. We had seen the excellent Roman museum before and so only took in the cathedral this time. Pushing on we spent another night in a layby very close to Cologne, noisy but a little off the highway. The next morning we were glad we had stopped because the other layby's were much worse.
At this point we were hurrying along as we discovered a leak in our propane system and the fridge doesn't take long to run down the batteries. Monday at noon we arrived at the caravan storage place near Amsterdam—but I luckily stopped at the wrong one. He showed us his very nice facility where the price was 90E per meter for a year of indoor storage. He also said he was willing to plug our battery charger in once a month and would take the camper without insurance. (We had tried last year to no avail to find anyone in US or Europe who would insure the camper in storage. If this is important to you he did mention that one American couple had previously been able to find it in Belgium but had no details.) Later that day we also found an LPG conversion company who walked us to the Volvo truck center where they had a lift and fixed our propane leak in the barbeque regulator by removing it and capping it off. So our camper is now resting at Caravanstalling Van Der Zwaan firstname.lastname@example.org@stallingvanderzwaan.com. Originally we had planned to use Storage Caravanstalling, which I am sure is fine, but charges 110E per meter.
Our first night in Amsterdam we wanted to stay near the propane repair place and ended up at one of the Droomparks. This turned out to be very fortunate as they accepted our ACSI discount card for 13E a night including electric instead of the regular rate of 24E plus electric. We were surprised, as not only was the park not in our discount campground book but also the discount is not usually honored in July. The park is right on the bus line to Amsterdam but fairly far out—bus is 5.40E return plus the tram cost if you want to avoid the 25 minute walk to the centrum. Not a problem for us as we needed to pack and clean and only went into Amsterdam for one day. By the way while we were at the campground, we had 3 very rainy, windy days with high temps of 62 and it was mid July! Weather in northern Europe in the summer can be all over the map.
The storage man took us to the airport for 30E which was reasonable, as a cab would have been much more. We flew Jet Blue to London. We had always planned to leave from London rather than the continent as we knew we were going to be out of compliance with Schengen this time by nearly 3 weeks. We had thought it better to have any delay on a cheaper segment of our trip. However, we were stamped right though with no problem. The border agent stamped my passport right next to my entry in Frankfurt in February (no one in Rome had stamped me in or out in April). They seem to be much more careless with the Schengen at airports than at road crossings. We stayed in London four nights at Blenheim Lodge, which was very reasonable and booked through www.airbnb.com. We spent three glorious days at the British Museum and National Gallery (where the audio is well worth the cost.) It was a fine way to end this part of our European adventure.
As a final note we flew from London to Boston on Iceland Express, a one-star airline, but our total cost for two with seat reservations on both legs was $738. We experienced no real delays anywhere and the seats were as comfortable as they had been on Air France and other carriers. Most of the complaints on the web stem from canceled (in low season) flights and long delays, so we had planned ahead to spend a night in Boston so we would be sure to catch our connection the next day. It is really worth looking into if the cost savings are important to you. Signing off until next year.
Mark and Vicki