It's an interesting experience to travel with others, especially since, as full-timers, we travel a lot, but usually by ourselves. We have become very used to our way of doing things, it's our way of life, and for the duration of a group road trip you have to compromise and try to adapt to the consensus. Well that's the theory anyway. The trick, if you're comfortable with your own company and used to your own space, is to try to strike a balance between doing your own thing and doing group stuff.
I'm not usually a big fan of group excursions, but I do love evenings spent with other like-minded people, catching up on the day's events, lubricated with some wine and beer, and preferably outdoors. We found that 'Happy Hour', or Beer o'clock, got earlier and earlier as the trip progressed. Actually, this was the best rhythm for me. We'd had a lot on our minds before the trip, and knew that we would have a lot on our plates when we returned, so a routine consisting of a bit of travelling, a couple of days of gentle tourism and plenty of al fresco evenings was just right. And after all, the main event was coming at the end of the week. I recall in my previous life as a dancer, our artistic director's advice when we embarked on foreign tours was, "Don't peak too early". It pretty much covers everything, and it still applies.
The Euro meet in Weilburg was a big success. It was lovely to reconnect with friends from the previous Euro gathering that took place two years ago in Venlo, Holland, as well as friends we have met since then. The European community feels like it is starting to gel. We are quite dispersed, but if we meet up every now and then we just might become one big, international family. Airstreamers are meeting up in small and large groups in the UK, The Netherlands, France, Germany and probably beyond. And with blogs and social media you sometimes feel that you know people before you've even met.
Of course the extended family, who we hear from but rarely see, is in the USA. That's where Airstreaming began after all. Right from the beginning of mine and Pete's travels, back when we were just taking a year off from the crazy, one of our early well-wishers was Rich Luhr, editor of Airstream Life magazine. He and his family have spent several years full-timing on and off in America. Well, we finally got to meet Rich and his wife, Eleanor at the big Euro Gathering. Putting a face to a name doesn't really cover it, we had plenty in common. Comparing stories of Airstream full-timing and organising gatherings, I really felt the difference in scale. It's a cliche that we Brits think that everything is on a massive scale in the US, but it's true. They now have four massive gatherings, all with an "Aluma..." theme. Obviously there's already over 75 years of Airstream love to work with. Rich also gave a slide show about travelling to the National Parks, which he described as the true America. I could see his point. That is natural beauty on a huge scale, which apparently could take you ten years if you embarked on visiting all of it .
The end of the weekend, always sad, was typically melancholy. Some of the Brits left separately, either to return home or to continue their travels in Germany. Our convoy buddies, Dave and Jean had to zoom back for work and the imminent arrival of a new grandchild. We had spent a lot of the trip together and like a soft ninny, I felt the separation. We needed to get back too, but had decided to break up the Weilburg to Calais journey with a stop off in Belgium.
Our site, about 30km south of Brussels was in the grounds of a stately home of sorts. As usual, it looked more impressive in the guide book! I was somehow able to conjure up some rusty French to book and communicate on arrival. Actually, our first choice of site had failed to confirm my attempts at booking by email and phone, which we had interpreted as a laid back way of doing things. On the way there though, as we stopped for a break, it occurred to me that the guide book we'd found them in was two years old and they might no longer exist. A quick check online showed that they were not a touring site any more. So, it was one of those lay-by map-scouring, campsite guide book sifting moments. And that's how we found this odd site with its faded glory that led to an almost deserted array of permanent caravan plots and a collection of tatty facilities. But the sun was shining and we had plenty of Belgian beer to keep up the Happy Hour tradition for two more nights. And, as it turns out, it's good to have a bit of quiet time by ourselves at the end of a gathering. It sort of allows all the buzz and happenings to settle and digest.