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Friday, 28 October 2011

International caching - 5 countries in a day

We haven’t had a lot of time for caching recently, but an occasion presented itself recently when we could not just grab a few caches, but could cache in no fewer than 5 countries in a single day! [I did look at adding in Luxembourg, but never realised before how inconveniently situated it is]. The occasion was a road trip to stay with friends who live between Dusseldorf and Essen – the draw being Spiel at Essen the following day.

Well it is said that planning and preparation are key to performance and, true to form, I commenced my planning at around 7.30pm the night before. That was exactly 7 hours before we were due to leave with just a little question of some sleep to squeeze in as well. The plan was to find two ‘cache and dash’ locations in each country close to the chosen route. How difficult could that be? Well quite difficult really – the cache density is considerably lower in Europe and the language issues meant that the cache descriptions were double dutch to us – quite literally in Holland. Anyway sufficient possibilities were found and uploaded to the GPSr and I sloped off to bed for a couple of hours kip.

Leaving home at 2.30am. our first port of call was ‘Ghosts & Goblins - 7 – Ghoul’ in Chiseldon, part of a series that had only just been placed and less than 5 minutes from the M4. Even in the dark the cache container was clearly visible from the car and it proved our easiest find of the day. One down at only 2.40am.

The next port of call was Membury Service Station 10 miles eastwards down the M4 to pick up ‘The Teddies Motorway Mayhem Membury M4 East bound’. This is on my regular commute to work and, for once, my usual policy of “I just can’t be arsed” had paid dividends and an easy find was available, exactly as promised by the hint.

Thereafter followed a nice straight-forward run down to Dover. We had a stop for a coffee and bacon roll on the way and were still parked up waiting for the ferry at 5.30am.

We were first car onto the ferry as well (for the first time) and, unsurprisingly, the first off. Our luxurious Sea France vessel awaited. Well it wasn’t that luxurious really, but I don’t think you can quibble for £48 return. The continental breakfast was a snip at only £6 and before we knew it we were launching off the ship ramp into Calais and hitting France just like in Saving Private Ryan. Except there were no bullets, or dying or Germans (except the one in my car), but you know what I mean!

The plan unfolded – the next cache was in a quiet part of Calais. This was ‘La Plage (Géocalais 4)’ and was quickly found . It was in a cassette case (ever heard of them children? They were a bit like iPods …) which makes for a nice slice of nostalgia, but a pretty poor cache container. Anyway who am I to criticise our snail-eating neighbours, after all it was my first cache in La France.

We then set off for a nearby park to locate French cache #2. Ten minutes later and despite a text exchange with the UK for translations, we still couldn’t locate the damned thing. To cap it all I managed to step in a helping of Chien poop and was far from pleased. The words “Bloody French” and worse were heard ringing around the locality. It took me 15 minutes to remove this particular piece of France from my shoe. If only I had a longbow to hand, I could have re-enacted my own version of Agincourt with the local canine population of Calais.

However not to be outdone, we relocated to a park near Calais town hall to bag no. 2 in France. 15 minutes later we still hadn’t found it and our quest for 2 caches in each country suddenly became a quest for 1 cache in each country. Persistent light rain later reinforced this decision. Anyway a note to all readers – don’t organise a caching trip to Calais, you’ll be very disappointed and you’ll end up hating the BLOODY FRENCH. Having said that, there is nothing amiss about Catherine Deneuve ….

Anyway it was off to the Autoroute and the quick road to Belgium, home of Poirot, Tin Tin and, um, that’s just about it actually. Next stop was a Service Station on the motorway between Gent and Antwerp. Needless to say, our run of continental DNF’s continued. This was turning into a disaster – all that planning time had been a waste!

Luckily our trusty car-bound GPS has a ‘co-ordinates’ setting and so we put our back-up grid reference into it and zoomed to our next Autoroute exit point. Unfortunately our trusty
Garmin led us into a farmyard (quite literally) on the wrong side of the motorway. We beat a hasty retreat – you don’t want to provoke a Belgian famer – and re-located to the correct site. Unfortunately it meant parking on a busy(!) single-track road and a muddy scramble in the rain up the motorway embankment. The ammo can turned out to be ‘TB Hotel – HAASDONK’ and we logged our one and only cache in Belgium.

We then had a choice of either turning round and driving the 2 miles back to the motorway junction or not turning round and driving miles and miles through dull Belgian countryside. We chose the latter.

Time was pressing and we crossed the border into Holland, a place you pass through but where you very rarely stop – an international version of Milton Keynes really. Anyway we headed off to ‘Stop 'N Go - Carpool Geldrop’ and a very quick find under the pine trees. It was supposed to be a Car Pool, but I didn’t spot a single ‘No Petting’ or ‘No Bombing’ sign, so it was all a bit disappointing. Our Audi left in disgust, after the promise of a Dutch aquatic adventure for like-minded Automobiles vanished in the drizzle.
So four countries down and just one to go. We crossed the border at Venlo and just a couple of miles later we were at ‘TB-Hotel D-NL/NL-D an der A40’. Another quick find just off the Autobahn (bahn bahn bahn bb-er Autobahn I hear you all sing in a Kraftwerk accent). By now it was knocking on towards 5pm, or 17.00 as they say on the continent, and we had cached in 5 countries.

Not long after we passed the motorway exit for my favourite German town. A bit juvenile, but it cracks me up every time.

Did we feel elated? No not really … a drive-by cache is a drive-by whether it is in the UK or Germany. However there is now a bit more shading on my profile map and we’ve ticked another virtual task off the list. However next year we’ll do the journey via Luxembourg – why stop at five countries?

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