PREAMBLE: this isn't our first foray into this arena...
In 1990 we wanted to tour Eastern Europe before the Communist world collapsed. The wall was down, but East Germany still existed. The old restrictions on traveling (eg. transit roads only) were somewhat relaxed. We had traveled previously in a rented car using gasthofs & pensions, however we were concerned about the availability of hotel-like accommodation in eastern Europe, so we decided to rent a VW/Westfalia camper from Braitman & Woudenberg in Amsterdam. This would give us "backup" accommodation in the event we couldn't find a suitable gasthof. Well our eyes were opened - traveling by camper/motorhome (as long as it's not too big) gives you freedom to go where you wish, change your itinerary at a moment's notice, and not waste a lot of travel time checking into hotels.
That first camper trip was great, taking us through East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland and finally standing on the lawn of the Reichstag during the einheitstag, as East & West Germany became one.
The following year we bought a VW/Westfalia in Toronto & shipped it over to Rotterdam. At the same time, we also had a comparable VW camper in Canada - and over 5 vehicles and 17 years have traveled Europe, Canada, the USA & Mexico in this most flexible, comfortable fashion.
When we sold one of our Westfalias, I made a post to the Westfalia forum, from which I quote below:
Well I just sold my 91 Westy.
Some of you may remember that it is a Canadian-registered vehicle that I shipped to Europe for touring purposes. I called it "L'Escargot", stealing the name from novelist Lawrence Durrell, who lived in Sommieres, France & had a VW camper of the same name. It was the second Westy I owned & both live on in our memories as shuttlecraft that transported us into a world of freedom & adventure.
Between the 2 vans, my wife & I have gone scuba diving in the Keys; listened to Don Walser & Jimmy Lafave in Austin, Hot Tuna in Ohio, camped on Bayous, driven up the Natchez Trace. We've freecamped on a pier in NYC; travelled through a Vermont autumn. We've taken our Caniche Royale (Thor the wonder-poodle) to Quebec City and have travelled through psychedelic cacti in Mexico to a ghost town where Caruso sang , eaten Whitefish in Patzcuaro, chicken mole in Puebla, relaxed on a beach in Acapulco.
We've spent over a year (in total) touring Europe, usually a month at a time. I remember fondly the little campground in Beersel, just outside Brussels: we would stay there once every trip, drinking lambic & eating lapin a la Kriek . I remember driving through a remote section of Provence one foggy morning, when, after picking up some wild honey & mead from a local farmer, I noticed some "silos" high on a mountain; after pulling over & digging out the binoculars, I was amazed to see coming into focus, not the expected silos, but a huge set of religious statues- a buddha, a king david, a guru - surrounded by a bizarre assemblage of symbolic buildings. Only a Westy could have taken us up the one-lane mountain road to visit the "Holy City of Mandarom". Similarly, exploring the "white roads" on the Michelin maps to find abandoned towns & long-since destroyed castles in the Cathar region of Southern France; standing on derelict towers up impossibly winding & narrow mountain roads, penetrating narrow-laned medieval towns, passing easily under low archways.
My wife often called my tours "go as far as you can until you have to back up" tours.
We would drive right into Paris, even taking a turn or two around the Arc de Triomphe; we freecamped behind the Russian Embassy in East Berlin on the day of German reunification in Oct. 1990, standing on the lawn of the Reichstag at midnight, along with a million dazed Deutsch volk. No worries about parking, manoeuvering, or finding a place to sleep, whether in country or city.
We camped right in Valencia as 300 statues, some 4 stories high, were burned in the annual Fallas Festival. We pulled into a Tuscan morning outdoor market, bought fresh cooked meats, vegetables & bread, went a few miles out, purchased some Chianti right from the domaine, opened up our porta-table, spread a tablecloth, and wined & dined to the cheers of passing Italian workers, right by the road, the towers of Siena in the distance. We set our camper sideways, with the sliding door facing the Rhine at the medieval walled town of Bacharach, barges sliding by, a castle hovering in the sky above. Never thought twice about stopping in Bamberg at a favorite restaurant ( Schlenkerla) for Frankische Bierhaxe & Rauchbier , en route from Documenta in Kassel to Oktoberfest in Munchen.
Our Westies have taken us to Auschwitz, to Ouradour sur Glane. To the wonders of the Alhambra, St. Peter's, Notre Dame, Sagrada Familia & the Kolnischer Dom. To the avant-garde of Documenta; to Vasarely & Dali ego monuments, to the Louvre & the Pompidou, to the Palais Ideal ( built over a lifetime by a French postman in his backyard), to castles and cathedrals & museums & villages both famous & forgotten.
Even more, they have transported us to the small moments , the freedom to enter those little pockets of magic time not often explored in tourist guides...
We actually shipped 2 over, in succession -
in the pictures above the white one was the first,
the blue one is shown with the Rhine in the background.
We also rented campers on 2 occasions.