Happy Camper

The school holidays have finally started in Baden-Württemberg. We are as relieved as the kids. Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, the two southernmost states in Germany, are always the last ones to break up. In other areas of Germany they have already been off for four weeks and by the time it gets to be our turn, everyone is really ready for it. The girls now have six weeks off and will not go back to school until mid September. The last few days of school involve various days out, parties and parents’ evenings. It turns into a bit of a marathon and we are just happy it’s all over.

To “celebrate” I knocked off work at lunchtime on Friday and squeezed everyone into the car for two nights camping in the Allgäu. The weather forecast looked promising and even though we knew the traffic would be awful, I just had to get away. I had also hoped to go paragliding with my friend Alan who was also in desperate need of a short break.

Things got off to a rocky start and by the time we had got the car packed and started rolling it was 2pm. A few traffic jams and diversions later and we didn’t arrive until late afternoon. I had picked out a camp site and tried to reserve a spot the day before but they said they don’t take reservations for tents – first come, first served. As we approached the area I decided to give them a call to ask whether it was worth trying. All we got was an answering machine saying they were fully booked. That meant we would be going to our normal camping spot which (a)isn’t on a lake which I had promised the kids and (b) is very basic by German standards.

In the end everything turned out fine. Going back to “Pfronten Camping” was a bit like putting on an old pair of trainers. They don’t look great but they feel warm and comfortable once you get them on. The couple that run the place recognise us because we have usually managed at least one night there for the last 15 years or so. The place was surprisingly quiet and we were given a great spot straight away.

As a family, we are not really hardcore campers. We like a night or two under canvas each year but we have never invested in all the gear and don’t like to waste too much time doing camping stuff (like cooking) so we stand out like a sore thumb on most German campsites where they like to do things right. I always feel a little nervous turning up at a campsite. When we arrive there are always a few families and couples sitting outside their tents and caravans having their tea and, I am sure, critically observing us as we set up. We used to have a family-sized dome tent which was a nightmare to put up if you didn’t do things in the right order. Naturally I didn’t bother to read the instructions or set it up in the garden first and spent an embarrassing couple of hours in Austria wrestling this tent into shape and straining my back in the process. That night was very cold and my daughter got an ear infection. I couldn’t sleep because my back hurt and the whole thing was a bit of disaster.

Having learned from this experience we now have two “2-Second Tents”. They are amazing – you just unclip various buckles and the tents just pop up. Four pegs in the ground and you are finished. Getting them back in the bag is a bit more of a challenge but this time I had practised! Sure enough as we pulled up to our spot there were several couples sat outside their campers having tea and watching us. I coolly took out the first tent, undid the buckles and threw it onto the grass. Unfortunately I had only undone half the buckles so as I stood there waiting for the tent to proudly pop up, it just lay there on the grass. I fumbled around, found the other buckle, undid that and then the tent sprung up and whacked me on the forehead. Not quite as cool as I had hoped. I got the other tent up quickly though and pegged them down before heading off to the lake for a quick dip to cool down. The water was relatively warm and as we swam out I really did feel the stress of work and end-of-shool-term stress melt away.

That evening we broke with camping etiquette by ordering pizza and, as we had no camping tables, eating it picnic style on a blanket in front of the tents. The camp shop sells excellent cold beer and in the end it was a perfect evening.

Next morning it was quite cool and I was up early. The sky was blue but our tent was still in the shade of the “Falkenstein” mountain to our East. I decided to go for a little walk up the valley, figuring that when I got back the tents would be in sun and everyone would be awake. I like observing the rituals on the campsite in the morning. Sure enough there were plenty of people already up and about. My favourite “classic camper” was a very sun-tanned gentleman, mid-sixties I would say, wearing slightly too small red shorts over which a large beer gut hung. Of course he had no shirt on. I think these characters are standard-issue on German campsites. I’ve never been to one and not seen somebody who doesn’t fit that description.

This chap was, naturally, on his way to the showers with his little washbag on a chord looped around his wrist, towel over one shoulder and wearing the standard issue Adidas sauna-sandals – and socks. He was probably a regular because his pitch was in pole position closest to the toilet-block. He had a caravan with an enclosed awning attached and even had a small flagpole flying the German colours.

I wandered up the field into the sun and sure enough when I got back, Ariane was on her way to the showers and the kids were stirring too. We cleaned up a little and settled in for breakfast outside the camp bar/shop. The owner, Waldtraud, had set our table in the sun and for less than five euros each we had eggs, fresh rolls, as much coffee as you can drink, cheese, ham and home-made marmalade. I think the serious campers frown upon us having breakfast made for us, but the thought of washing up and faffing around with gas-stoves were enough to clinch it.

Alan turned up just as we were finishing breakfast. He had been on the road since 4:30 in the morning in order to beat the holiday traffic. The sun was shining, we were clean and fed. Ariane had kindly said she would go to the lake with the girls so I could go flying with Alan. The prospect of a wonderful day lay ahead. I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Bis morgen!

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