We left the Austrian Alps in the morning on day 6 of our Zomervakantie and headed for Italy. Around 11am, we arrived at Camping Lido, situated on Lake Garda, Italy. My husband had booked a “camping”, which is a very popular type of holiday for Dutchies. What I didn’t realise, and was actually quite shocked by, was the number of Dutch people we would be surrounded with. Playing Dutch music and eating Dutch food. Not that I have anything against the Dutch. It’s not what I expected though in Italy.
The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the heat. As soon as we stepped out of the air-conditioned car, it was hot and humid. We knew it would be hot at that time of year, but this was actually quite hard to take, even as a Queenslander! The next, was the noise. It was a crowded campsite, with music absolutely blaring from the pool. I soon learned that this would become the “new normal” for the week, with both the heat and noise being at very high levels from about 10am-11pm every. single. day.
Though I have been inducted into the Dutch holiday village type holiday by my husband in the past, where until now, we’d booked a cabin or cottage, this was my first time in a “rent-a-tent”. In peak season, cabins in Italy were just beyond our budget and I thought I could cope ok with camping. I was wrong.
I’m writing this blog post some time afterwards, where I’ve had time to think it though and process it all. Let’s just say it’s my first and last time spending a week at a “Dutch camping”. After absolutely hating it, I’ve had to completely reassess my own expectations of a holiday. I THOUGHT I didn’t mind camping, that I was quite a social person and didn’t mind a bit of noise. However after even just the first night at this campsite, I was looking at flights out of there. I stayed though, and learned more about myself and the Dutch camping experience.
I’ve since had many conversations with “both sides of the Dutch camping scale” – and possibly will receive more comments on this post too. For the camping fans, they seem to love the “gezelligheid” and say it’s great for the kids. Here’s my take on those two.
Camping and Gezelligheid
I truly did my best to see this side as well, and yes, it was nice to meet a few other people and there is a level of “camaraderie” when camping. However, my experience was that many of the people staying there had limited consideration for other campers. I know some was beyond their control – screaming babies and very, very loud snorers are unavoidable I guess. The chain smoking, barking dogs, late night talking and loud Dutch music was something perhaps more controllable. That was another of my main issues. Why drive 12 hours to Italy, to then consciously surround yourself with all things Dutch? Tents were REALLY close together and my husband admitted that after a lifetime of camping since he was a kid, this campsite was one of the noisiest he’d stayed at. Moving to a “quieter” spot was not an option, it was fully booked and we were restricted to the “area” we prepaid. Different areas of the campsite are owned/run by different – mostly Dutch – companies. Like I said, I thought I was social but I’ve come to realise that I really, really need a good night’s sleep and some time on my own each day to be able to be that. Beyond the other campers, the fact the campsite themselves charge a small fortune to “sleep” there (130 euros a night for a rent a tent in peak season), but then blast booming music every night until 11pm ruined the week for me. I’m all for gezelligheid but I also really value at least bit of my own space and air and a decent sleep each day. After a week’s camping there, going back to my own bedroom was just bliss.
Kids and Camping
In terms of the kids (aged 9 & 11) – yes, they had fun. It was great to see them running off to the pool with their cousins as we met my husband’s sister and her family there. I still struggle sometimes with the degree of freedom that is generally given to Dutch kids but as I hate swimming and the pool, I wasn’t going to spend the day hanging out there watching them. This worry did add to my stress, but there were at least lifeguards on duty and the girls quickly made friends. And, can you believe, we ran into old classmates of both girls – from the Netherlands, staying in the same campground in Italy! My concern for the kids though is that is was just constant, constant, constant activity and noise. Between the pool, slippery slides and the “animatie” (kids shows) and other music/shows through until 11pm every night, they rarely got any kind of down time. Yes, they had fun. However I think kids need to learn how to unwind and relax a little on holidays too. They did enjoy the day trips and took some books to read, but in terms of the “kids love camping” argument, I think kids can have fun in plenty of other ways too.
Looking for the positive
So what did I enjoy? Honestly, not a lot. Particularly when I ended up getting sick. Not having your own toilet nearby is an inconvenience when camping, but when you’re not well, it’s hell. I also struggle to understand why we left a perfectly good house at home, with all the conveniences, to pay for a very very hot tent, amidst constant noise. I found I came back more stressed than relaxed.
We enjoyed a BBQ by our tent one evening which was nice, but I didn’t like having to carry all our greasy dishes so far elsewhere to wash. Our daughter shattered a glass over her hand doing so, but luckily wasn’t hurt badly. The camp shop had a few tasty Italian foods, but alongside a large selection of Dutch food! I did have fun at the local Italian supermarket, and discovered the delicious Limoncello. It certainly crossed my mind that getting and remaining drunk may help me cope with a week camping, but unfortunately alcohol can tend to make me feel quite sick and in this case, even more miserable.
One night, when I was too hot and stressed to sleep (and couldn’t block out the snoring in a neighbouring tent), I found a wonderfully quiet spot to look at the moon and stars at 2am by myself. I realised that being out in nature is one of the best parts of camping, but that this kind of campsite did that a complete disservice.
My effort of learning some Italian to speak while in Italy was a bit wasted, I only spoke to a few Italians on the entire holiday. I did meet a lovely Irish family – “I found someone who is speaking English!” my husband declared to me and despite the fact we both spoke the same native language (amongst a sea of Dutch campers), they were lovely people too. A music quiz by the pool on the last evening with them was fun.
I read several novels cover-to-cover, something which I rarely find time for but not an activity I would particularly miss if I didn’t do. So many people seem to relax by reading novels, and maybe I’m reading the wrong books but I always end up feeling a bit like I wasted my time. Our tent had very little shade so it was too hot to relax and enjoy reading a book for most of the day anyway. I tried the swimming pool but have never really been a pool person, certainly not in that level of chaos and noise. Not long after I was at the pool one day, one swimmer was sadly airlifted to hospital after hitting his head on the side. I feel sorry for whoever it was but am glad it wasn’t my children.
Wifi was available but too slow to be any use. I didn’t miss it particularly, though it may have been handy to be able to access my meditation podcasts!
The location on the lake was lovely, though it was hard to find a place which wasn’t saturated with noise or smoke to enjoy it. I sat at the end of the pier for a while one day until I was joined by a group of bomb-diving Dutch teenagers, complete with their floating speaker blasting Dutch music! I didn’t at all begrudge them having fun, and did consider jumping in with them but imagine they would have thought I was a bit weird. I did experience some amazing sunsets by the lake though despite all the noise, and really wish some of the other people around me had stopped to take it in as well.
Staying where we did was handy in terms of location to take day trips to places such as Verona and Simione, both beautiful spots. We also had fun at a Medieval dinner. I’ll write seperate blog posts about these.
My favourite evening was heading out for a tasty Italian dinner at a local restaurant with my sister in law and her family, after which all the kids stripped to their underwear and dived into the lake! They didn’t want to walk all the way back to the tent to get their swimmers, and these are the kind of great memories that good holidays are made of. Right afterwards, we were hit with a huge storm. I have to admit I was kind of hoping the campground would be flooded or tents blown away! It did at least cool things down a little, and was one of the nicest nights in our tent as the heavy rain drowned out much of the noise.
By the last day, I actually had to laugh when I woke up with a spider centimetres from my face in the tent! Somehow my foggy morning brain knew I wasn’t in Australia and it wasn’t likely to be a dangerous one…and at least it wasn’t a snake.
Overall, I did my best to stay positive and allow my husband and kids to have a great time, but I can now say from very much first hand experience that it’s not my kind of holiday. Before I left, I read a great blog post:
I tried to put some of these practical tips into practice, but as you’ve read above, the environment didn’t really support that. We did forfeit our last night and head home a day earlier at least!
The day we returned home, I saw the devastating news that an Italian bridge collapsed, killing around 43 people. We didn’t drive in this area, but it reminded me to put things in perspective. Yes, I had a tough week, where I got minimal sleep and was not the best version of myself at all. However we all returned home safely.
On the other end of the spectrum, alongside the Dutch camping fans, I’ve had many friends and colleagues tell me later “Oh I’d NEVER do that!”. I think as my husband was raised doing these kind of holidays, he has fond childhood memories he’s trying to recreate for our children and I appreciate that. However I’ve certainly come to better make the most of the simple pleasures at home.
My husband and I actually met on a camping trip on Fraser Island. I had fun on that trip, and remember sitting outside on my own at night under a stunning, starry sky. Even with the danger of dingos stealing your food, potential for snakes and spiders to infiltrate your tent, having to dig a hole as a toilet, and being with backpackers who weren’t exactly quiet, being out in a beautiful beach location overnight spoke to my soul. One of my favourite holidays ever was a weekend camping trip to Belgium many years ago. We went with friends whose good company kept me calmer, and I again had quiet time to think under starry skies. I’d definitely try camping again, but only for a night or two, and as a trade off to enjoy being out overnight in an amazing natural – preferably quiet – location, under the stars.
Are you a (Dutch) camper?