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Pitching a Tent at Campgrounds on the Continent

March 23, 1986|FRANK RILEY | Riley is travel columnist for Los Angeles magazine and a regular contributor to this section

It was twilight beside the Gudenaa River in Jutland, Denmark's northernmost province that juts up toward Norway and Sweden.

We were sharing the campsite with a young Danish couple who were also paddling a canoe on the gentle Gudenaa through the flowering countryside that has not changed greatly since Hans Christian Andersen wandered its byways.

The young Danes had invited us to join them for dinner. They had already served us a glass of white wine with the fish appetizer, and now we had a glass of red with the beef broiled over the open fire.

That evening of nine summers ago continues to add a glow to our memories of paddling the Gudenaa, and to underscore again the fact that camping out anywhere in the world can be so much more than the concepts often associated with this kind of travel.

After dinner that evening beside the river, my wife Elfriede and I and our new Danish friends talked together around the campfire under a canopy of stars. What we couldn't communicate in English we tried in French and German. It was a setting that pushed aside barriers for sharing many thoughts from our different cultures and perspectives.

Our Australian friend Paddy Pallin writes that for all who have camped out "under the nightly pageant of stars" there are precious memories born "round the magic circle of the fire" where "people can lower the mask of everyday life and be a little nearer to their true selves."

These words come from the newly published 11th edition of his book on "Bushwalking and Camping" in Australia, and they express the quintessence of the camping experience everywhere in the traveler's world.

Author Now World Famous

Since the first edition of his book was published more than 50 years ago, Paddy Pallin has become world-famous.

Elfriede and I have found his poetic words and practical advice to be a guide to the outdoor life whether we're hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas, canoeing the rivers and canals of Europe or driving the back roads of America with a tent and sleeping bags in the trunk of our car.

Camping around the world can accommodate every age, life style and political persuasion. Shortly before the military takeover in Poland we were driving through the country with our inflatable canoe, tent and sleeping bags in the back of the car.

An off-duty police officer came up to us in a park outside Warsaw and managed to communicate what was on his mind: Because I was an American I must know how to play tennis, and so could we have a game? We did. Five sets.

In the summer of 1986, concerns about terrorism, crime and political instability obviously must be considered in planning a camping trip even more than any other kind of travel.

Remote From Urban Problems

Campers are more exposed and isolated than most other travelers. Conversely, they are also more likely to be remote from urban problem areas. Make plans with the same research and considerations that have to be part of all travel preparations in today's world.

Indications are that hiking, biking, canoeing and camping travel in Europe this summer will be focused mainly on Central and Northern European countries, as will travel in general. Along the southern perimeter of that continent, active travelers also will be enjoying the French Riviera countryside and mountains, Yugoslavia and Hungary.

We started our European tenting in the Gatinais, Loiret and Nivernais between Paris and Nevers, where you have a feeling of being on the top of France. We carried with us then the lightweight French tent that we still prefer. It's called Le Praire, and we soon learned to put it up in an average time of six minutes. We camped out about half the time, spending every other evening or so in a country inn. And even when we were tenting we would often walk into a nearby village to dine and sip the wine of the region.

As you may begin to suspect, we've always liked to pamper ourselves on a camping trip. In the little inflated dinghy behind our canoe we carry emergency rations of water, bread, chocolate, wine and cheese.

Electrified trains add graciousness and ease to hiking and camping around Switzerland, from Lugano and Lucarno in the south to the Rhine Falls in the north. Get a Holiday Card through your travel agent before leaving home and you can travel for 4, 8, 15 days or a month at greatly reduced fares. Between campsites you can dine in air-conditioned dining cars while the Alpine scenery flows past your window.

In Shakespeare Territory

In England we can recommend hiking and camping along the River Avon outside Shakespeare's town of Stratford, along the Thames between Oxford and Windsor Castle, and on the trail of Sherlock Holmes across Dartmoor Heath, just as an introduction to footloose travel around the British Isles.

In Ireland we've slept in sleeping bags under the moonbeams around the fairyland hills and silvered lakes of Killarney in County Kerry. Next autumn we'll hike in Scotland with Robert Burns around Loch Lomond.

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