When I was nine or ten my parents borrowed an RV, packed it full of food, and drove to a campground twenty miles away where we stayed for a two-week summer holiday. A bunch of my parents’ friends were camping at the same campground so it felt more or less exactly like being at home except that we wore our bathing suits all day and no one went to work.
My memories of those two weeks are some of the best and most vivid of my childhood. I loved everything about that camping trip, but two things I prized above all else: first, being able to swim every day in the river that was just a stone’s throw from our RV door; second, the evenings, when the grown-ups would build a campfire and sit around it singing and drinking and telling stories and the kids would get to roast marshmallows and hotdogs and stay up way past our normal bedtimes.
Ever since that summer, camping for me has always been about two essential ingredients: fire and water. In my view, there’s no point going camping if you can’t go swimming every day and make S’mores every evening. The Dutch, I have learned, take a very different approach.
The Dutch don’t go “camping” like the rest of us. Instead they go “minicamping.” This makes it sound like everyone is hunched over in a too-small tent but it actually means that you are camping in a farmer’s backyard. Why this is called “minicamping” is beyond me, since nothing is reduced in size from normal camping; it’s just that everything happens at a different (and totally illogical) location. As a minicamper in the Netherlands your neighbours are the farmer and his family, a lot of other Dutch people as well as a healthy dose of Germans, and some haystacks piled up at one end of rows and rows of cabbage fields. The air does not smell of salt air or charcoal but of pig shit. Campfires are not allowed. Unless you brought an inflatable wading pool, you’ll have to drive to the nearest beach for a swim, as there’ll be no lake, pond or puddle at your actual campsite (though there may be some bathtubs filled with drinking water for the cows, which could work in a pinch).
To top it all off, the Dutch don’t have Honey Maid graham crackers, which also means no S’mores, not even “mini-s’mores.”
On the upside, should anyone have a craving for a mid-July serving of cabbage rolls, you’ll be in the right place. And if you have plant lust, you should come to Zeeland, as we happen to have a minicamping site perfectly suited to your needs (see above).
So Mom and Dad, if you ever want to go camping again, this time in the Netherlands, just let me know. I'll meet you at the farmer's. You bring the wading pool and I'll bring a lighter. And Mom, take your big casserole dish, just in case.