Utrecht, Belgium, Düsseldorf

When I last wrote, we were in the waterworld of Maasbommel looking for floating houses. We found them, and, after looking at them from all angles, we moved west, meandering through the countryside toward Utrecht. The Maas is traversed by several small car ferries along its length and we took the opportunity to sail back and forth a couple of times – the cheapest way to get out on the water – and we diverted into open studio day in the town of Zaltbommel for a couple of hours, so it was late afternoon by the time we arrived in our campground, Camping de Boomgaard, outside of Utrecht.

This turned out to be the perfect campground for exploring Utrecht: 10 minutes walk from the train station at Bunnik (which is a single stop from the central station), and in the middle of the city suburbs, yet set in an orchard and buffered from the noise of the train and the highway by trees. There was laundry, and lots of space to walk Ethan, clean washrooms, and friendly staff. It was one of the nicest campgrounds we stopped at, and I’d highly recommend it as a Utrecht base.

The next morning, Sunday, we woke up early and headed into Utrecht for the day, with the University Museum Utrecht as our destination. This turned out to be a combination science centre and paean to the greatness of the university; there were some really great little exhibits – a tour through the human body was compelling – along with a lot of dry material about the evolution of the university campus. The highlight was the “Jeugdlab” on the top floor, an area for young people to explore and experiment that was well-constructed and staffed by a very talented facilitator who was a big help in our enjoying of the experience.

Sunday night we rendezvoused at a nearby Indonesian restaurant with Edward Hasbrouck and his partner Ruth. I’ve been corresponding with Edward for more than 10 years, but we’d never met, and their cycle trip through Europe came close enough to our camper trip through Europe that they graciously arranged to divert from Belgium into Utrecht to meet up. It turned out to be a great meal with kindred spirits, made all the more interesting by the fact that Edward’s book, The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World, has been so influential in shaping my own thoughts about independent travel.

Monday morning we were faced with a fork in the road: we needed to be in Düsseldorf on Wednesday morning to return our VW camper, and so we had one night of camping left, one more destination to squeeze in. Given that Belgium was so close – the western part of the country only a little more than an hour from Utrecht – I advocated for a quick overnight jaunt there; my advocacy prevailed, and so late that afternoon we pulled into Campinastrand, just outside the town of Dessel.

The campground was one that had obviously seen better days in an earlier time: the vestiges of a glorious well-equipped past were everywhere and, while not without its charms, we found it rough around the edges compared to other campgrounds we’d stayed at. The owner was a friendly man, however, and he got us set up with electricity at a spot beside what could charitably be called a “lagoon.” We enjoyed some Belgian beer on the terrace, took a nice walk around the fishing lakes that dotted the campground, cooked a meal in the camper, and then tucked in for a night punctuated by the arrival, in the middle of the night, by a gaggle of young rock festival refugees stopping over for the night: when we awoke we found a trailed parked 3 feet from the back of our van.

The next morning we packed up and headed west toward Düsseldorf, stopping in the pleasant city of Eindhoven for the afternoon for some lunch and shopping (and, for me, a pleasant hour at the beautiful Eindhoven Public Library). By supper time we were re-installed in the Rheincamping Meerbusch campground north of Düsseldorf where we’d spent our first night two weeks earlier. After a nice meal on the patio at the campground bar we set to work packing and cleaning, readying for our return of the van the next morning.

We woke up early on Wednesday, did a final round of packing and cleaning, and headed off to our Airbnb apartment in central Düsseldorf, where I dropped off Catherine and Oliver, and then onward to the DRM franchise in the southern part of the city to drop the van. I then headed back into the city by train, picked up Catherine and Oliver, and we headed for lunch with our friends Pedro and Patrícia. We spent the afternoon with them, grabbed supper at a nice Italian restaurant near our apartment, and then fell fast asleep – in real beds for the first time in weeks! – packed and ready to head to the airport on Thursday morning.

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