About to head off on a camping holiday in Greece, Helen Moat remembers the European camping disasters she'd rather forget
So I’ve finally negotiated a week of camping along the Peloponnese coast in Greece this summer. The deal is this: I get to camp for the first week of the trip, if the rest of my crew can have somewhere with four solid walls and a roof for the rest of our time there. The problem is, I’m just not compatible with my family (husband and two boys), but I can hardly trade them in for a more adventurous bunch. So I resort to bribery and persuasion: if we camp we can justify eating out every night (It’s hard to resist authentic Greek food); if we stay in self-catering we have to cook. It’s an argument that my food-loving men can’t resist.
The last time we did a grand tour of Europe, we camped all the way, apart from days here and there with friends in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The weather was grim. The men in my life hated it – and hated me for insisting on camping. And when we came home, they swore they were never going to sleep in a tent again. Ever. This is why:
In Denmark, a man threatened to set the police on us.
Our crime? We’d kicked a flaming gas canister (the whole canister had caught fire) into the centre of the campsite field before it set fire to our tent, car and children. Finally, we managed to put the fire out, but that didn’t impress our angry fellow camper. Sleepy Rømø Island was providing us with a tad more excitement than we’d bargained for, so we hit the road.
In Germany, we visited Hitler’s Holiday Camp.
We’d actually stopped off at Rügen Island to see the romantic chalk cliffs immortalised by artist Caspar David Friedrich, but the cliffs and the views remained resolutely hidden under the mists and rain. So we ate our soggy sandwiches in a covered throughway in Hitler’s colossal concrete building at Proro, staring out at grey skies and seas while dreaming of Mediterranean sunshine.
In Austria, we took refuge from the rain under four walls with friends for a few days.
We longed to stay, but recognised the wisdom in the old Chinese proverb: ‘Guests and fish stink after 4 days’ – and we were all too aware of our damp smelly clothes and soggy shoes. So we waved goodbye and carried on.
In Slovenia, we were attacked by a plague of mosquitoes of biblical proportions. It wasn’t just Lake Bled that was bleeding by the time we left.
In Croatia, we found ourselves in tent city, looking like a refugee camp.
It wasn’t the small cosy campsite we’d thought we’d booked, but we’d driven hundreds of miles for a few days of Mediterranean sun, so we had to make the best of it. A warden gave us permission to pitch on a quiet hillock overlooking the sea on a promontory, away from all the other tents packed cheek-to-jowl. Hours were spent erecting our tent, so large and complicated it required a degree in engineering – but hey, we had three days to relax and enjoy this quiet corner under pines.
Next morning, however, we were instructed to move again as we hadn’t pitched on a ‘designated site’. I refused to budge. Then it started raining again.
In the communal area, a Croat glared at me (or was I being paranoid) as we washed up our dishes side by side. “I’ve been coming to this campsite for twenty years and it’s never rained.” Across the way from us, our neighbour’s awning ripped in two from the weight of the water on it. The campsite lanes turned into rivers. We broke camp and slipped away.
In Italy, we were forced to batten down the hatches as gale force winds set in.
Husband gathered stones from the river beach and laid them on the guy ropes for fear that we and the tent would take off over the Dolomites. No one slept.
By Switzerland, our tent had developed a series of holes, so our camping equipment had to be strategically placed between the drips.
Husband spent the hours between showers filling the holes with glue until the next deluge of rain washed it away. We descended on friends in Basel and although it was still raining, we didn’t care: their apartment was waterproof.
Back home we dried out, then flung the battered tent in the bin along with our smelly shoes.
Camping in Greece? I can’t wait. Truly.