The Netherlands. 17 days, 812 miles

The Netherlands. 17 days, 812 miles

Zeeland, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amsterdam, Friesland, Groningen, reads the route we took through Holland. We saw canals, bikes, islands windmills, bikes, canals, bikes, windmills, canals, and bikes.

Holland is an friendly country to spend time in. The cities feel inviting, and very safe, the road infrastructure is brilliantly maintained, easy to navigate, and the people came across as bright and open.

Nearly everyone rides a bike in Holland, and so did we, though we received some funny looks there. As a keen cyclist in the uk, our family of three, on fancy(ish) bikes, and sporting crash helmets couldn’t have stood out more. A helmet in holland must be a beacon for foreigner, as must be a nice bike. In the city, everyone wears their normal clothes, texts whilst they ride, and seem totally unfazed whatever situation they find themselves in, all whilst riding a rusting heap with three speeds and a buckled wheel.

So there I am, with my sports helmet and sunglasses on, riding my road bike looking a bit of a dick, the only thing to save me was Ihad Mabel on the back to help me ‘blend in’ a bit.

As I’ve Mentioned in previous posts (I think) cities are a bit strenuous with a two year old, so sadly again we didn’t get to see as much of them as we would have liked. And I cant say we absorbed vast amounts of culture, as so often stayed outside the cities, or found ourselves in transit. Here it comes, ready….

the Netherlands is flat. So flat. Flatter than a deflated flat thing with a puncture.

At first this seemed mesmerising, “look at that” I’d Say to Liz, pointing at the horizon “you cant imagine anything this flat can you”. Sadly for Liz, her imagination is rather more colourful than mine. Those conversations must have been a trial.

After a while though, it became boring, and then it started to get to me a bit. To the point, that by the end, it was making me feel a bit funny. I have to say, that leaving, not Holland, but the flatness, was a relief for me, and the almost instant forests and subtle undulations offered by Germany was most welcome.

I broadly had a very enjoyable time in Holland; I’d love to go back to Rotterdam and Groningen for a proper look around some time. With so much still water around, be it countryside or city, it felt so relaxed. The architecture was a joy to take in, and the people we met were warm and good fun.

All in all, a thoroughly decent place.

 

Van repairs and island hoping in Holland

Van repairs and island hoping in Holland

I had wanted to go to Texel, an island off the North-West coast of Holland, it was on my list. But the list has been adapting and changing as we get further into our van travels round Europe.

We had had a few problems with the van that meant detours or hanging around in places until things could get fixed. The fridge had not been working, a part of our exhaust fell off whilst driving (it did sound a lot quieter after), and the van had also been leaking oil rather badly for some time.

It took a while to find mechanics for the repairs. Everyone Craig had called was either too busy or decided they didn’t speak any English/just didn’t want to help. We found a guy to fix the fridge who, after we had spent a couple days in the area waiting to be seen, took all of five minutes to blast it with an air compressor to get it working again before lighting up a cigarette and sending us on our way again. But yay for cold gin and tonics again!

We found another mechanic further on who agreed to look at the van for the other repairs. It meant driving past where we’d catch a ferry to Texel. But it had to be done. We had spent a couple nights at a free stop near the garage. The mechanic had seen the van Friday and been so kind to rearrange their schedule and see us the next day. He even lent us a small car on the Saturday to drive around and accomplish a few mundane living tasks; food shopping and finding a laundrette (which is harder than it sounds… 45 minutes of driving in a triangle until we found somewhere).

It was hard waiting to hear from them. Our whole trip depends on the van being able to function. It is our transport and our home. We drove about and hung out in various locations but our thoughts were with the worry of if it could be fixed and how much the bill would be. They had been in touch at lunch with lots of images and what they were doing, great service, but as the hours got later we were worried maybe it would take another day. It was getting to six and we hadn’t heard from them yet so we headed back towards the garage. They were, much to our relief, just finishing up. They had worked so hard and we were so grateful. And the bill was not too bad either!

That night both of us felt a huge relief. A relief that the van might live another few months. A relief it hadn’t cost the earth. And a relief we could get travelling again. So we decided to have a bit of an indulgent day the next day and head to one of the Friesland islands still within our reach. Sunday morning we headed off early to catch the ferry to Schiermonnikoog. The island is home to only 950 residents and you require a permit to have a car on the island. We took our bikes and sunblock.

Everyone spills out the ferry the other side, and you worry it will be crowded, but as everyone goes there own way further and further onto the island, you can easily find solitude. The cycle paths wind their way through marshland and heather in the middle, and past dunes and huge beaches on the farthest side from the mainland.

We stopped near one of the bigger entrances on to the beach along this side. There were so many bikes parked up that again you worried you would be in a crowed area. But, as you stepped onto the beach, you realised there was no worry of this. White sands, dunes, and a sky so huge the clouds looked small in the blue that stretched off in all directions. The sea was off in the distance, like a mirage.

We settled around the dunes at first.  Mabel loved climbing and running around, exploring the grasses, looking for bugs, digging in the sand. Just generally having that feeling of freedom that is so wonderful as a child. After a couple hours we wanted to cool down though so headed for the water’s edge. After a long journey (not necessarily because of distance, although it was rather far, but because walking with a toddler you have to stop every few paces to invesitgate a stick or stone or some other unidentifiable object), we were rewarded with the cool waves to run in and out of.

I loved it there, it felt like the perfect place to just be. Unfortunately a sea gull had eaten Mabel’s peanut butter and jam sandwiches while we were in the water so we had set off in search of food. And a nap was very much needed after all that running around (queue toddler tantrum at having a nappy change and being made to do, well, anything). She fell asleep while we cycled into the little town so we settled down in some shade and Craig procured a bottle of beer and small bottle of presecco from the local supermarket.

After some time had passed being idle we realised we were actually running out of time before the ferry to head back left. And we hadn’t seen either of the lighthouses on the island yet (the tourist thing to do). Well, we didn’t find them, we must have taken a wrong turn. But we did find the most incredible landscape before us. It was a beach, but you could not see the sea it was so vast. You could almost pretend you were on the moon with its surreal flat expanse of white powdery chalky sand.

It was a quick stop to drink in this view, we would never make it to the sea here. And then we cycled back to the ferry, back to the van, and got back on the road and back to our journey. Having gained some great memories and a bit of r&r from this amazing place.

 

Zeeland continued

Zeeland continued

I’m picking up from where I last left off,  from the camperplaats we stayed in for a couple nights. With fresh laundry, and fresh minds (and bodies thanks to proper showers!), we were on the move through Zeeland, Netherlands, again in our camper van.

 

We drove to a beach near Zouteland first. All around the Netherlands the sea is obviously encroaching towards the land, but you oddly never see it. It is held back by damns, mounds of earth stretching the coasts, and so that is what you see instead of the sea itself. I kept finding this rather peculiar at first, but can understand why, as it is a function not an astetic. But it has made me search out beaches all along the way.

 

Another thing I’ve felt in the Netherlands is that spaces seem to be of very much mixed use; houses will sit alongside buildings for industrial use, alongside farmland, alongside more natural landscapes. The beach at Zouteland though was very much a space for recreation and enjoyment. To get to the beach you had to walk over some dunes, but when you crested the top, you had white sands stretching off each direction as far as the eye could see. The only divisions on the beach where the wooden groynes and the wind breaks of families sectioning off there own little piece of beach.

We ran up and down the flat beach, buried our toes in the sand, made sandcastles that were turned to sandy ruins by Mabel. It was a perfect beach afternoon. We were still on track to keeping it easy and relaxed. And along these lines we found a place to park that faced out to sea and had a bird reserve behind us. Craig went out for a bike ride and Mabel took forever to go to sleep but it was such a pretty sunset I could forgive her for wanted to see it.

The next day, 10th of May, we drove back on ourselves a bit as we had passed on the day before the Delta Works. I wanted to explore these more and take a few pictures around the area. The Delta works are a set of damns/ storm barriers which can control the flow of water so as to make sure the islands of Zeeland aren’t flooded.

It was windy when we parked up, so Mabel and Craig stayed in the van to have a snack while I went for a wander.  They eventually came out to join me after some time and we ran around on the soft sand below large Turing wind turbines. This again was one of this combined use spaces. There were the huge wind turbines creating vast sums of powers for the gates to the damn, there were crabbing nets strung out in the artificially created bay, there was a cafe nestled in some dunes with flags waving in the wind to advertise it’s existence, and then there was the beach itself which people came to walk along and play on.

From here we drove to Schiedam with the intention of visiting Rotterdam the next day. Schiedam actually turned out a great stopover as not only was the parking free as it was a public holiday, but we were right on the water, in a town which had a nice feel to it, with some pretty buildings to look at and canals to walk along.

More on Rotterdam in the next post…

Landwinkel camperplaats

Landwinkel camperplaats

I have some catching up to do with regards to writing about where we have been. To be honest, we spend the days exploring and then in the evening it has been taking FOREVER to get Mabel to sleep. Once she is (usually by ten), I just read a little then head to bed myself. I will try to recall where we have been and what we have been up to over the last week and write a few posts now we are taking a quiet couple of days out. We are doing so as we are waiting for the van to be seen by a mechanic (I’m sure Craig will write more on this).

To where I had last left off… after our first night in the Netherlands we decided to stop for a couple of days at a camperplaats. I had emailed the previous evening and we received a reply in the morning saying they would reserve us a place. When we drove into Landwinkel camperplaats we were not really sure what to expect, this being our first stop to someplace more like a campsite than the others. But I am so glad we stopped here and couldn’t recommend it more highly.

The parking is on grass and surrounded by orchards of pears and apples. We still did not have any chairs at this point and so I brought out a picnic blanket for us all to sit on in the shade of the van. We sat and did a whole lot of not much except occasionally chasing after Mabel. She mainly occupied herself with collecting stones, poking the ground with sticks, and asking to see the chickens or goats.

This was the first place we had WIFI, and although it kept dropping out, we tried to take advantage of it to catch up with life admin and what was happening out there in the world. There was also a washing machine and I did three washes on the 2nd day of our stay which took most of the day but set us in good stead for the coming week. And clean sheets are always lovely!

In between wash loads we did manage to cycle to Yerseke, not far down the road from Landwinkel. This village is known for is oyster fishing and pools. We visited one of the oyster pools and sat at a picnic bench eating our cheese sandwiches (well Mabel had peanut butter and jam as always) while across from us people feasted on oysters and lobsters in the midday sun.

A bit more about the site itself though, the owners where so friendly and the facilities clean, tidy, and the showers… so so good when all you’ve had is a little washroom in your van for a week. There was a little farm shop which had delicious looking produce and also a little play ground just outside the shop.

The owners’ daughter who lived and worked in the shop was also very kind to let Mabel play with her daughter in their paddling pool one very hot morning. One thing I have been worried about with this trip is Mabel having a chance to interact with other children. So this was a lovely opportunity for her. And hopefully we will find more welcoming people along our way just as we did here.

Our first night in the Netherlands

Our first night in the Netherlands

When we pull up in the van to the motorhome stopover I’ve found for our first night in the Netherlands, it’s hot. There is no shade. Still I wish to face into the sun so we have the view of the sea through the front of the van. To our right is an industrial building and storage yard. In front and to the left is a grassy wetlands slopping down to the water. It could be a canal, or ocean, or a river… to be honest there is so much water around the islands of Zeeland I have no idea if it is salty or not most of the time.

The sky is bright blue and there have been no clouds in days. We had come to the coast hoping for a breeze. It is there but the sun is still stronger. We walk the path ahead between wetlands and water. Along it we hear ducks and there are also frogs, loudly, hiding in the tall grass. We find a stretch of benches facing the water and sit watching huge ships, heavy with cargo, gliding silently past us. We also find what looks like a huge birds nest. This fascinates Mabel and she spends a good amount of time sitting in it, making us sit in it, and generally poking sticks about. But it is time to head back to the van and the shade it would offer us.

The day is Sunday and we have not been lucky with finding an open shop on route. So we search the cupboards for what we have to make a meal. We are in luck and can make Dahl. Although in this weather it is not the meal you would choose, it is still tasty and filling. Mabel eats yogurt, just yogurt, and some more yogurt.

When we have finished our diner, Mabel and I head along the path leading us to the left. The sun warms our backs as we stroll. We spot hares lying in the evening sun and dandylion clocks with increasing shadows. The breeze picks up as we get closer to the water and is most welcome. We walk to the water edge, inspect a canon there, and then head back to the van to prepare for bed.

With Mabel asleep, the sun begins to slowly set causing the sky to change from blue to Turkish delight in colour. As the evening comes to a close, we are sung to sleep by a chorus of frogs. All in all I’d say not a bad start for our wandering travels through the Neverlands.

 

Rotterdam

We’d stayed in Schiedam so we could cycle into Rotterdam. It wasn’t too difficult a cycle although we did seem to go along a rather busy unattractive route. We found somewhere to park our bikes, then wandered off to find tourist information. We tend to head to tourist information in a big city first now, as a map (so we don’t hammer the WiFi looking at google maps) and a little information with regards to where we might like to see can make all the difference.

With a toddler, visiting a city tends to be more about moving around outside then seeing museums, eating in nice restaurants, sitting outside and people watching at the quant cafe (sigh…) but actually Rotterdam had an advantage here with such great architecture to take in.

There was a huge indoor market, which arched high overhead painted with a bright mural. Upon entering, Mabel admired this and exclaimed, “Wow, pretty” . She was right. Windows dotted the structure above and on the ground floor the market was crowed with stands full of delicious treats; macaroons, donuts, candied fruit peel, cheeses… and pizza!

Having picked up a couple slices, we headed for the open square out front. Here the city opened up to revel some pretty incredible buildings (which while we admired them, Mabel mainly chased pigeons). Among the buildings in front us were the iconic Cubehouses.

We had a good wander around these looking at them from every angle – and there are lots of angles! They are innovative and eccentric in design which I think sums up Rotterdam pretty well. There was one open which you could look around for 3 euros, so as I was pretty curious and this didn’t stretch our budget too far, we climbed the narrow steps up to investigate. We climbed our way through the tiny peculiar rooms up to the top of the cube. This was like a triangular conservatory; retro, warm!, great views over the city.

Mabel’s favourite part of the Cubehouses was the plant pots. Got to love a two year’s perspective of the city.

We walked from here along the canals and towards some interesting bridges spanning from one side of a great canal to the other. Then we headed back to our bikes to cycle a little way out a have lunch in a green park with a little pond. Mabel enjoyed welding a stick and pushing it into the duck weed, whilst we sat under the cool swaying branches of a willow tree.

We decided to spend another night in Schiedam, and as the parking had been free again for the day, we spent the money we saved on a local, traditionally made generver. It was strong. Very strong! … But good. And Rotterdam was a good day out in my opinion.