ManVanNoPlan Visits Wilhelmshaven, Cuxhaven, Friedrichsradt, Tonder & Romo Beach in the fifth blog of our 2022 Spring tour of Europe.
Day 39 – Friday the 8th of April 2022
At the end of the last blog we were in Den Oever parked on an Aire we never actually stayed on it’s noted for a future visit, hopefully. From Den Oever you join the A7 dual carriageway and cross the incredible feat of engineering that is the Afsluitdijk, a major dam and causeway which was constructed between 1927 and 1932. It runs from Den Oever in the North Holland province to the village of Zurich in the Friesland province, over a length of 32 kilometres (20 miles) with a width of 90 metres (300 ft), at an initial height of 7.25 metres (23.8 ft) above sea level.
The Afsluitdijk creates a dam cutting off the Zuiderzee, a salt water inlet of the North Sea, and turning it into the fresh water lake of the Ijsselmeer. It was a major project at the time and makes for a quicker road-connection between the North and West of the Netherlands.
This is the section of road that The Navigator was so concerned over the past few days as it is so exposed to the wind coming off the North Sea but our extra day in Den Helder had allowed the wind to go from gale force to a breeze. There are a few places where you can park up and visit an information centre and viewing tower but there is a massive upgrade of the dam and road just now so they are closed.
The potential wind hazard does not end once you have crossed the dam as the landscape is dead flat with no real shelter from bankings or trees on either side of the road.
The rest of the drive through the remainder of the Netherlands and into Germany was unremarkable apart from a huge diversion in the city of Groningen where the motorway is closed to be upgraded but my digital Navigator guided us around the city and out into the countryside where we stopped a few minutes later for lunch in a rest area.
It has always fascinated me when crossing borders in Europe how quickly everything changes. In this instance vehicle number plates change from yellow to white, the design of the buildings change as does their appearance with a distinctive and unattractive red brick construction and different coloured roof tiles. In the Netherlands everything seems so manicured with trees deliberately planted a uniform distance apart along roads and canals but in Germany that wasn’t the case and there were random trees everywhere and far more woods to be seen.
Our next destination was Wilhelmshaven, a port on the Jade Bight, a bay of the North Sea and a major shipbuilding area with the famous pocket battleship, the Admiral Graf Spee launched here in 1934 before it was scuttled in the River Plate Estuary near Uruguay in 1939 as the Royal Navy had it cornered.
In World War II, Allied bombing destroyed two thirds of the town’s buildings while the main target, the Naval Shipyard remained operational despite serious damage. On 28 April 1945, the Polish First Armored Division captured Wilhelmshaven, and took the surrender of the entire garrison, including some 200 ships of the German Navy. The Poles remained as part of the Allied occupation forces until 1947.
We found the Aire we were aiming for and managed to get a space for the night although the guy in charge seemed reluctant at first as this was a Friday and he could easily have given our space to someone for the weekend and not just one night.
As I say we are only here the one night as I want to be in Cuxhaven tomorrow so, after connecting the power cable, we set off to walk along the top of the mound of earth separating the sea from the land. There are a few touristy things to see including a sea life aquarium, restaurants and a German Naval ship museum but it didn’t seem to have as many exhibits as the ship museum back in Den Helder.
As we kept walking we came across another official place to park a motorhome on top of the breakwater with great views out to sea but it was just a parking spot with no facilities. Lined up along the front as you can see in the picture below are pretty nifty seats which are the German equivalent of a deck chair and beach hut rolled into one. It looked as though there had been heavy rain here recently so they were all locked up so we couldn’t try them. Further on there was a converted VW camper van selling ice cream and we treated ourselves to a cone which was good value at only a euro each.
Wilhelmshaven Aire – GPS = 53.515131, 8.152578 & What3Words = ///rider.dreamer.shoebox
Day 40 – Saturday the 9th of April 2022
We were up fairly early as we were moving on today to Cuxhaven, a port on the banks of the massive river Elbe at the point where it meets the North Sea. The motorhome Aire we were heading for is quite famous in motorhoming circles as it is right on the docks and if you are lucky you can get a pitch looking out to sea to watch the ocean going ships going past very close to the land.
There is a German TV program on YouTube which features this site and the people who come to watch the ships pass and they seem a pretty dedicated bunch as they have radios to listen in on the conversations and they also track the ships on an App which shows the ship’s details and where its been and destination etc. We have seen aircraft and train spotters before but never ocean going ship spotters but if that’s your hobby then this is the perfect place to do it.
When we were at Spijkenisse back in the Netherlands there were up to 250 ships a day passing our pitch but that was a canal, all be it a big canal, and the traffic was mostly inland barges but here the the ships were all ocean going and coming and going from all the ports on the Elbe including Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremen and Hamburg.
The Aire can take about a hundred vans and with all the coveted places looking out to sea taken, I parked on the other side facing a marina but we could still hear and see the ships passing, just not as well as on the other side of the Aire.
After lunch we headed off for a walk to the nearby shops, including a Lidl, but on the way we went into a harbourside restaurant, the Sturmflut Restaurant und Bierlokal, which specialises in fish, as you would expect, and the reason I am lashing out is because it’s The Navigator’s birthday tomorrow so a slap up fishy lunch will be her birthday treat so a table was duly reserved. Oh, I almost forgot, she also received a Fyne Editions celebration notebook which as you can see in the picture below, she was over the moon with!
This was a surprise to her and we would spend the Saturday evening translating the online menu using the Google Translate App. The fun you can have on a motorhome tour in a foreign land where no one speaks the Queen’s English, and in the case of Germany, no one makes the slightest effort to!
I should report on our first German Lidl of this trip and say that it was slightly more expensive than a UK Lidl but the selection of food was fantastic.
Day 41 – Sunday the 10th of April 2022 – The Navigator’s Birthday!
It was another terrible night of gales rain and hail and so our sleep was disturbed yet again. The Navigator got toshed up and we headed over to the restaurant at one o’clock. The waiter who made the reservation yesterday was not on duty which was a pity as he did have a little understanding of English, but at least he had reserved us a table with a great view.
Due to our menu preparation the previous evening we were able to order easily enough with The Navigator choosing a fish ensemble consisting of salmon, what we think was red snapper, and three pieces of pollock with, as you can see in the following picture, potatoes and a mustard sauce. I was not as adventurous fish wise but at least I had the classic German meal of Schnitzel, fries and a mushroom sauce. The food and the wine were superb and the Birthday Girl was delighted with her birthday treat.
The heavy rain showers made it impossible to venture out for a walk so we spent the rest of the afternoon in the van chatting to the family back home followed by another YouTube evening.
Day 42 – Monday the 11th of April 2022
There was a bit of an exodus this morning as it seemed those who could not get on the prime sea view pitches gave up and were moving on. We had a final walk around the Aire and managed to see the ship that takes passengers and freight to Helgoland which is a small archipelago in the North Sea now German since 1890, although the islands were historically possessions of Denmark, then became the possessions of the United Kingdom from 1807 to 1890, and briefly managed as a war prize from 1945 to 1952.
The islands are located in the Helgoland Bight (part of the German Bight) in the southeastern corner of the North Sea and just over a thousand people live there. The islands lie approximately 43 miles by ship from Cuxhaven. During a visit to the islands, August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben wrote the lyrics to “Deutschlandlied”, which became the national anthem of Germany! Not a lot of people know that!
Cuxhaven Aire – GPS = 53.875872, 8.703880 & What3Words = ///splint.shelters.rocket
We were moving on to the other side of the river today to start heading north towards Denmark, but before Denmark we had another two stops in Germany first. To get to the other side of the river Elbe there are only two options. The first is to drive down to Hamburg and back up the other side of the Elbe which takes just over 4 hours but the option we chose was to head for a river crossing about an hour away and take the roll on roll off ferry.
Once out of Cuxhaven the drive was through the countryside on very quiet roads, although we did have a bit of an incident when a pheasant decided to fly across in front off us and coming very close to being another piece of road kill.
The ferry set up was very reminicent of the Western Ferries operation over the Clyde between Dunoon and Gourock and we didn’t have to wait that long for the 25 minute, 28 euro crossing which was fair value for an 8 meter van and it saved us a long drive and the hassle of negotiating the roads around Hamburg. Once on the other side we had only a 14 minute drive to our next Aire at a little village called Brokdorf, or so we thought.
As I approached the village there was a barrier across the road with a diversion sign and there then followed about 45 minutes of trying to get into the village from every angle but every road into the village was blocked off so Plan B was dusted off and we headed for the next Aire on our list, another hour northwards.
The town of Friedrichstadt is meant to be very pretty as it is built in the Dutch style and was founded in 1621 by Dutch settlers after Duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorp persuaded them to invest capital and knowledge in this region in turn for freedom to practise their Mennonite and Remonstrant religion and the opportunity to reclaim fen and marsh land in the vicinity of the town.
Day 43 – Tuesday the 12th of March 2022
I forgot to mention the transformation in the weather yesterday as it was a warm but chilly day if that makes any sense. There was no wind whatsoever (for a change) and there were clear blue skies but you needed a jacket or jumper on outside.
This morning we set off to explore Friedrichstadt on foot and the weather was glorious with clear blue skies and no wind. The town centre is only a ten minute walk from the Aire but even before we arrived there we could see Dutch looking buildings dating from the late 1600s in a great state of preservation. The people who originally built them were not poor as only a wealthy person could afford such sizeable properties.
As well as the buildings the other Dutch influence here were a series of canals which had busy boat tours going around the town in scenes that would not look out of place in Amsterdam.
Friedrichstadt is not a big town and after seeing all that was to be seen we walked to the outskirts of the town where an Aldi and a Lidl share a large car park. The plan is to come here tomorrow in Bessie as this will be our last grocery shop before crossing into Denmark tomorrow where the prices are allegedly much higher. Today was just a scouting mission to Aldi as we had never been in one in Germany so far and as I wasn’t that impressed with Lidl’s wine selection this was Aldi’s opportunity to show their wares.
And they did just that with a super range of German wines, as you would expect, and at least a euro a bottle cheaper than comparable Lidl varieties. There was one in particular bottle that caught my eye which was a Riesling Chardonnay from the Cochem area on the Moselle river for the princely sum of € 1.99 (£ 1.66) so not as cheap as my favourite Spanish white wine from Mercadona, however I bought a bottle anyway to try this evening to see if it is worth buying a six pack tomorrow.
We sauntered back to Bessie via the town centre again and enjoyed a late lunch before sitting out all afternoon in the lee of the van, as although it was bright and sunny, there was a chilly wind again. Dinner later that night was a rather good white fish topped with a borderlaise sauce from Aldi, washed down with their white wine and both were delicious!
Day 44 – Wednesday the 13th of April 2022
We are in no real hurry this morning as our next planned stop is an hour away just over the border in Denmark in the town of Tonder. A Danish motorhome came onto this site yesterday afternoon and we had a conversation with the woman who was driving their family down to near Berlin to take their three daughters to a theme park there. She gave us a lot of good information on what to expect in Denmark over the next few weeks, so, after servicing the van, it was time to head north to country number five on this trip.
We headed first to the Aldi we had walked to yesterday and bought more of the German white wine I had sampled yesterday and as it was the Easter weekend we did a ‘big shop’ to see us through until next week.
From there we continued north towards the border and the small but busy town of Süderlügum and a supermarket called Facta. Why on earth do you need to visit another supermarket when you’ve just done a ‘big shop’ I hear you all cry out as one?
Well, the Danish woman we spoke to on the site at Friedrichstadt told us that in this almost unpronounceable little town a few miles south of the border in Germany there were a number of Danish supermarkets that were much cheaper than in Denmark because of a bit of a (legal) tax dodge.
As we pulled into the car park of Facta we parked behind a Swedish motorhome just as the people were filling up their garage with a huge trolley load of things. Looking around, we could see that most of the cars were Danish registered and were towing trailers and the reason for that soon became apparent as people came out of the shop, not with shopping trolleys, but with the type of trolley you get at a cash and carry.
These trolleys were piled high with cases of Coke and other fizzy drinks, beer, and random things in large packs including, surprisingly, gas bottles. Once inside we could see it was not like a normal supermarket as nearly everything was being sold by the case and the range of goods was limited as there was no bread or other everyday items.
We didn’t buy anything but when we came out we bought lunch from a cafe on site and it was really delicious. This would be the last purchase using euros so we swapped the euros in our purse and wallet for the Danish currency we had brought with us. Since the introduction of the euro we have been used to easily converting the value of anything into pounds but the Danish Krone or DKK as it’s better known will take a bit of getting used to as there are approximately nine to the pound and it took The Navigator a bit to re-learn the nine times table.
There is a manned checkpoint at the border but we weren’t stopped and continues on to Tonder and the Aire we were staying at for the next two nights. We hardly had time to park Bessie on our pitch but our Danish next door neighbour was out for a chat, in perfect English of course.
This was the best day weather wise for weeks and we sat out for the rest of the afternoon with a glass or two of wine. Everyone that passed us said hello and we were joined by a woman who came to talk to us for ages. It turns out that a British registered motorhome is rarer than hen’s teeth at the moment and when they realised we had come all the way from Scotland that was even more of an incentive to talk about all things Danish and Scottish.
This really warm welcome on our first day in Denmark was in stark contrast to our time in Germany where no-one made the effort to converse, but the Danes and the Dutch especially, are all taught English as their second language where I don’t think that’s the case in Germany.
Day 45 – Thursday the 14th of April 2022
The plan this morning is to walk the few hundred yards into Tonder and have a wander about followed by an afternoon sitting outside enjoying the sunshine. Well the morning went to plan but the afternoon didn’t!
Tonder, like so many of the places we are visiting in Denmark are all a bit of a mystery to us and we have never heard of most of them before. We hadn’t planned to stay here but because we couldn’t get into Brokdorf earlier in the week, we had to find another location for two nights and in hindsight things worked out perfectly as this is a very pretty little town and the Aire is perfectly placed for access to it.
Tonder is a beautiful little town located in the southern part of Denmark just over the border from Germany. It was granted port privileges by the Hanseatic League in 1243, making it Denmark’s oldest market town. In 1532 it was hit by severe floods and in the 1550s, Tonder’s port lost direct access to the sea due to dykes being built.
The town centre is dominated by colourful houses from the late 17th and early 18th century, when the town experienced rapid growth as a result of its lace industry. Historically it has been part of Germany and during World War I, a Zeppelin base was operated in Tonder by the Imperial German Navy. The base was attacked by the British on 19 July 1918, in what is known as the Tonder raid. Seven Sopwith Camels from the aircraft carrier HMS Furious bombed the base, hitting two of the three airship hangars and destroying Zeppelins L.54 and L.60.
We wandered about all morning and were entertained by a group playing in the main street at lunchtime. There was a hardware store in the main street with a half price sale and The Navigator bagged herself a bargain with a new kettle to be used on the gas rings in the van. We also bought some bread from an old fashioned bakery nearby too. This was our first full day in Denmark and wandering around the shops gave us a much better understanding of the value of the currency and our nine times table skills improved no end.
Unfortunately after lunch back at the van we couldn’t sit outside as it was grey and chilly so I had a siesta then did some work later on.
Day 46 – Good Friday the 15th of April 2022
Time to move on today to the world famous island of Romo which is about forty five minutes away but before we do there is an interesting factoid to pass on about Tonder.
As Tonder is the first town over the border in Denmark from Germany, the town has been a particularly popular place to elope since the 1960s. This is due in part to Denmark’s liberal marriage laws, compared to those in nearby Germany which requires a minimum of three months administration and the ceremony has to be in German. However, in Denmark it can be done in just around a week, with fewer documents required and the vows can be done in languages other than the national language. In one year alone over 2,500 marriages were done at Tonder town hall by non-resident couples compared to just 150 local couples.
Tonder Aire – GPS = 54.935380, 8.878262 & What3Words = ///dash.payout.reinforce
From Denmark’s Gretna Green we set off for Romo and it’s incredible beach, which, if you have a motorhome or camper van, is the place to come as a sort of right of passage.
Romo is Scandinavia’s widest sandy beach at 15 km long and is possible to drive a vehicle all the way down to the waters edge. The beach is rather unusual because of its width – between 1.5 and 6 km in places – which invites beach activities of every kind. Activities like windsurfing, kite buggy driving and flying with kites are very popular here. It is a right of passage for motorhomers visiting Denmark to drive their vehicle onto the sand but it is forbidden to camp overnight on the sand.
We wanted to be there fairly early, as although it was a grey overcast day, it was Good Friday and bound to be busy so we serviced the van then went round to an Aldi where there was a self-service fuel pump and filled up with diesel. Our fuel gauge was below a quarter and It was concerning to see the pump race on to 780dkk but at 13.99dkk (£ 1.56) it was the cheapest diesel we had seen on our travels so far.
The drive to Romo only took half an hour and when we were still a good few miles to go we joined a convoy of motorhomes heading in the same direction. Romo is actually an island and you get to it over a causeway then drive a few kilometres through the island and then straight on to the beach on the west side of the island.
It is a little concerning to drive a motorhome that’s almost four tons onto sand but there were already motorhomes as far as the eye could see on the beach. The sand is compacted and there is no problem driving on so I drove until I could see a space to park where we would be on our own to mark the occasion with some pictures.
We did set off for a walk about but that didn’t last too long as it was a bitterly cold wind as you can see from the above picture of us and as we couldn’t get the chairs out we decided to find the Aire I had in mind and secure a pitch as it was bound to be busy – and it was! It is a huge site with 176 pitches and we managed to find the very last one so I reserved the pitch for 3 nights to take us over the holiday weekend. There were loads of empty pitches but once you pay for your place and turn the pitch marker red you can leave the site at any time knowing no-one can take your place so most of the empty places would be people we had seen on the beach earlier.
After lunch it was time to wrap up against the cold wind and get the bikes out to explore the south of the island. The Navigator was in her element now as the electric assist was working again and she would be off the road on cycle paths. Our first destination was to a part of the beach on the south east of the island which turned out to be just as hard as the main beach further north. This particular beach had loads of motorhomes on it as well with the majority towing box trailers as this was the designated area for beach buggy sailing and it seemed perfect conditions for it with the wind and hard surface.
After watching them scoot up and down the beach for a while we headed to the village of Havneby which has a sizeable harbour with a lot of trawlers tied up for the holiday weekend. It was a busy place, especially the two fish restaurants and the fish shop was queued onto the roadway. We had our customery mid-afternoon latte/tea before cycling back to the site and a curry in the evening.
The part of the site we are on surrounds a large pond and a few vans further along from us is a massive German registered Concord Centurion motorhome with slide out panels like an American RV. I looked it up online and there is a YouTube video of one like it and it is said to be a million pounds new!
Day 47 – Saturday the 16th of April 2022
The sun is out today and the icy wind had gone so it promises to be be a good day. Before we decide what to do with the rest of the day, The Navigator was up and away to use the nearby washing machines – a woman’s work eh!
Because it was so nice we decided to have a lazy day at the van and enjoy the warm sunshine, the first day like this for about three weeks. In fact it was so nice that we had a barbecue at lunchtime just in-case it cooled down later. After eating we sat out most of the afternoon with a few glasses of the very agreeable German white wine from Aldi. As it was a litre bottle The Navigator decided that she needed to give me some assistance drinking it while leaving her own red wine intact for another day!
Only a handful of vans departed the site permanetly today but quite a lot left to spend the day on Römö beach, some even leaving in the early evening to probably watch the sunset up there.
Day 48 – Easter Sunday the 16th of April
It makes such a difference to wake up to the sun streaming in the windows through clear blue skies. After a bit of a lie in The Navigator produced her own Easter miracle by rustling up scrambled eggs and Danish bacon, and although it wasn’t back bacon, it was very tasty and our first bacon since crossing the channel. You might think that with Denmark being the recognised home of bacon that the supermarkets would be awash with it but not so far.
We decided to cycle back to Havneby to buy some fresh fish from Otto & Ani’s Fisk which is half fish shop and half fish restaurant. This wasn’t a random choice of destination as I was going to indulge The Navigator by buying some Toska (Cod) from this superb quayside fish shop and cooking it on the barbecue this evening with some boiled potatoes and green beans – very healthy I’m sure you’ll agree!
However, before we got to it we stumbled across a fairly big car boot sale and it struck us that it was a pretty upmarket one and little would be going for the knock down prices of a car boot sale back home!
As we were chaining up the bikes we spoke to a German bloke who bizarrely was wearing a Scottish tartan hat with the fake ginger hair attached. I had seen him come out of this ex German fire brigade truck which he said he had converted into a unique camper van, although goodness knows what MPG he gets in it! Maybe it was not so unique as he told us there were another two fairly similar ones in this area as well.
Although I asked the assistant in Otto & Anni’s Fisk Shop for Toska obviously the other words in the sentence were in English so he answered in perfect English thankfully as our Danish is not up to a satisfactory standard yet (and never will be). As well as the Tosca we bought a tub of shrimp salad which would accompany our fishy meal later. This may be the most expensive piece of Cod and shrimp salad ever purchased, or, we still don’t understand the value of the Danish currency and there is probably an element of truth in both theories.
After cycling back we had lunch and I brought this blog up to date before sitting out enjoying the brilliant sunshine.
On the cycle back I deviated from the cycle path to take a shortcut through a pine wood much to The Navigator’s displeasure and she walked part of the path as there were tree roots on the surface making it slightly hazardous. This island has a lot of pine trees with random holiday cottages scattered throughout them and as this was the holiday weekend all seemed to be occupied, many by Germans. It is a bit of a tradition in Scandinavian countries to have a holiday cottage in remote woods or by the coast and it is tastefully done here with most unseen from the main road.
Back at the van we sat out in the sunshine while making use of the electricity to charge the bikes back up ready to use in the future. Surprisingly there were hardly any other barbecues being used given the great weather and number of vans on this site. Suffice to say our investment to keep the Danish fishing fleet afloat paid off and we had a delicious meal washed down with our last bottle of my favourite white wine from the duty free allowance of our last trip to Spain. The Navigator has been drinking my white wine rather than her own red wine again as we haven’t bought any red meat yet as it is very expensive here and fish is far more plentiful, if not cheap either.
Day 49 – Easter Monday the 17th of April 2022
We had packed the bikes, table, chairs and barbecue last night as we were heading on today. As I mentioned when we arrived we were on the only pitch that was available on Friday and are so thankful that we managed to get on as the facilities are superb and so well organised. Once you check in at the machine you are issued a card which controls everything like entry to the toilet block, paying for the shower, electricity, water, washing machine which are all charged in addition to the pitch. That said when we serviced the van and checked out on the machine the total cost was only £ 17 a night which to me was a real bargain given the facilities, location and popularity of the site.
Camping Oasen – GPS = 55.091167, 8.538337 & What3Words = ///milks.passer.genetics
The top map above shows the position of the campsite near the bottom of the island and the upper circle is where you drive on and off the beach. The other map above shows the campsite in relation to the town and harbour of Havneby.
Today we were moving on to Ribe, reputedly Denmark’s oldest town, in fact, the oldest town in all of Scandinavia and it celebrated it’s 1,300th anniversary in 2010. As it is only just over half an hour away and we were in no hurry to get there we headed back to Romo beach to spend the best part of the day along with hundreds of other motorhomes and day trippers in cars enjoying the fantastic weather.
We spent just over five hours parked on the beach sitting out watching loads of people of all ages flying kites in the breeze. After lunch we had a long walk to the dunes where vehicles are not allowed, returning via the water’s edge. Of all the people on the beach we only saw one man going into the water for a swim, as although the sea looked enticing, it also looked icy cold. We left the beach in mid afternoon and headed for Ribe which turned out to be a real gem of a place…
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COMING SOON ON THE NEXT BLOG...
We continue up the west coast of Denmark and visit three fantastic little towns before having to re-evaluate our plans as we hit an unforeseen development…