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  • Writer's pictureLauren O'Bryan

Unbelievable hosts and Dutch style camping

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

Wild camping or Free camping is illegal in many countries in Europe particularly western Europe. However I also made use of platforms like Couchsurfing and Warmshowers (a Couchsurfing equivalent for touring cyclists) to find hosts. I had some unbelievable hosts. One particularly memorable host was Vincent in Amiens. I had contacted Vincent, a botanist by trade to request 2 nights with him in Amiens. Unfortunately, he replied that he’d be away for the weekend and couldn’t host me. A short while later he emailed me back saying ‘actually I haven’t found someone to housesit my rabbit, would you like to housesit for me?’.


I wasn’t going to arrive until after he’d left for the weekend, so I was pretty shocked by his trust in a complete stranger. Also, a house trained rabbit? Sure why not, I agreed to housesit and collected the keys from his friend. Brigitte came with a list of care instructions, which in summary read DON’T LEAVE HER ALONE.

You see, Brigitte is restricted to the kitchen area when supervision is not available (she has a habit of chewing things), she can be let out to roam around the house but only when you’re nearby and she could go out in the garden, but only with supervision.


Once Brigitte had realised you were around, she’d bite onto the gate enclosing her in the kitchen and rattle the hell out of it to let you know she wanted free range.

I’d relax on the couch to eat breakfast, and she’d attempt to help me finish my toast.

I’d relax to watch a movie, and she’d nip me to get attention.

I’d let her in the garden for a browse and spend the entire time chasing her away from the tomatoes, or keeping the street cats at bay.


Despite this I really enjoyed babysitting a rabbit and I especially enjoyed the short break. Having a house to myself for any period of time was going to be a rare thing for the foreseeable future, so I really soaked it up (literally, I even had a bath!). When Vincent returned, he asked me if I’d enjoyed Amiens, I didn’t want to seem rude but I only ventured out for a cycle once so I tactfully replied ‘I didn’t do a lot of sightseeing, but Amiens seems really nice’.

Queen Brigitte

Always the poser

I was itching to get cycling and in my rush to pack up in the morning, I locked my phone in the house as I was leaving. Without any way to contact Vincent I had no option but to wait around all day for Vincent to finish work. Once reacquainted with my phone late in the afternoon I insisted on cycling on even though it was by that stage a little bit ridiculous. I managed about 20 km of cycling before the sun started setting and I found a suitable corner of a field to camp in. Not my finest moment.


Despite the rules on wild camping I did manage some sneaky camping to break up the nights with hosts. In France I could usually find a forested area on the map and hide effectively for one night, however, I found it difficult to hide as well in the Netherlands and campsites were a whole other thing. In the Netherlands I found campsites to be more accurately described as RV monstrosities.

I got my first flat tyre the day I cycled from Belgium into the Netherlands. Upon packing the bike to leave the hostel in Bruges I found the back tyre completely flat. I must have collected a small nail on the ride into Bruges. It was my first flat tyre of the trip, and for reasons I still don’t understand I thought I could just pump it up and it’d make it to the end of the day and then I would fix it. I had some complex about wasting the morning fixing the tyre instead of cycling and just wanted to get get some miles down. Six kilometres out of Bruges and I accepted that I would have to stop and fix it.


I remember someone telling me: when you’re on the road and you get a flat, don’t get into a fluster, get yourself comfortable, take your time and fix it – make a cup of tea even (they were English). I found a shady spot away from the road, put some music on, got myself comfortable, patched the tube, packed up, and got back to it.


In hindsight though, perhaps I should have just put the spare tube in and stuffed around patching the tube in the evening. I was pretty stoked though, first puncture fixed, and I totally nailed it (pun intended).

 

Or so I thought. Gradually throughout the day the tyre began going flat again. I was sure the patch was solid, I had no idea what was wrong but needed to sort it out. I decided to find somewhere to camp, have a bite to eat (I’m useless when hangry) and sort out the problem.


I found a campground, correction RV monstrosity, and asked how much for a tent place. They wanted 25 euro for me to pitch my pissy little tent, sleep and leave. This was exorbitant but I couldn’t find anywhere suitable to free camp so I accepted the mistake and made a mental note to be more cautious with campgrounds in the future. I motioned to pay with card and the lady explained they didn’t take card (what RV monstrosity charging that much per night doesn’t take card I’ll never understand), and there wasn’t an ATM anywhere nearby.


*Feminists stop reading here*


I got a bit blubbery whilst rambling on about how I’d cycled all day, I have a flat tyre I need to fix and I can’t go any further, I only have 15 euro on me and I’m only 1 person in a tent (sometimes prices are quoted for 2 people so you can get a tent pitch for half the price). After a discussion with the RV monstrosity manager she said that since it was late in the day they could accept me for the discounted rate of – 15 euro. Convenient. I avoided similar campsites after that.

First flat tyre of the trip.

Uneventful border crossings of the EU.

Free camping in a forest in France.

I still had plenty more cycle touring lessons to learn but I was getting the hang of this. Happy days.

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