Craig asked if I wanted to go see the sunset. I said I wasn’t sure. I went anyway.
I walked and watched as the sun turned into a bright glowing orb. Like glass being heated to it’s hottest point, the colour was rich and full of anticipation. I had moments before this spectacle, realised, or perhaps always knew but never said aloud, that we actually had no idea why we were doing this trip. We don’t really know where we are going, why we are going, and what we are trying to discover while we go. There are ideas but nothing fully formed.
But then I thought, what actually matters is that we are going. We are discovering.
And perhaps, like the sun changed to glass that is now dipping below the waves, cooling to take on a new form for the new day, we too will take on a new form at the end of this process.
The water in Norway has taken my breath away and stolen my heart.
The depth of the fjords, the translucence of the streams, the aquas and turquoise of the rivers and lakes. Not to mention the pale blues of the glacier lakes and the frothy, trubelent whites of the waterfalls. From the outset of our journey into Norway, and consistent all the way through, this element has had the ability to stop me in my tacks and make me gaze at it in admiration and sometimes awe.
The colours of the water change with the light and depth. Like changing moods, they can reflect and effect how you see the landscape around; a very dramatic landscape. Whether the water comes as a large body or narrow strip, is still or moving, frozen or suspended in the air, you can tell that it has shaped this country and perhaps even the people who live here.
We have stayed parked by fjords and watched the water change from a deep blue to an inky green as the sun gets lower and casts it’s golden light on the houses small in the distance on the opposite shore. Below the surface of the water, you can still clearly see seaweeds of various purple hues swaying with unseen currents.
We have climbed towards glaciers with their blue veins, awesome to see how their slow moving strength carves the landscape of rock. With the glaciers comes the melt water, feeding into pools that are a pale, nearly electric, blue.
We have ventured to swim in the cool glacier pools, with water as still as the surroundings. The reflection like a mirror until a splash from a pale body causes ripples to distort the image. Likewise we have swum in fjords as the sun has progressed towards the horizon, dipping below the darkening water only briefly to then cast light again a few hours later.
At first you think the water divides Norway; the fjords cut their pathways far inland, the edges of Eastern Norway is made up of many islands, even waterfalls cascade along roads and so have to be accomidated to allow their course to continue.
But then, after many twisting and winding roads, and many, many ferries,
you realise it is part of this land. Like a circulatory system; it brings life to the landscape. From the melting snow at the top, to the he trickles of streams, to the rushing rivers over white stones, through the calm majestic fjords, right out to the ever changing sea.
It feels like we have experienced all four seasons here. The weather, the landscape, and the water changes so dramatically from one day to the next. Rain and wind, with seas of grey.
Clouds heavy around tall peaks we hiked for amazing views.
And other days full sunshine illuminating waves and distant shorelines.
By traveling in our van, we have spent nearly every night in Norway with a view of some form of water. Calm, dramatic, reflective,
Norway’s water makes you stop and reflect.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
It is a week today that we left the safety of a house, got in our van, and headed off to explore continual Europe. We are now sitting in the shade of our van in an camperplaats set within an orchard in the Netherlands. We are in Zeeland to be more specific. The last few days have been blazing sunshine and it is nice to know that we will stay here and rest for a couple of nights.
We set off last Monday not knowing what our adventure would entail. And actually we are still learning as we go. What we have learnt is that there is a leak in the bathroom and our fridge doesn’t get anything cold. Oh, and a warm gin and tonic just isn’t what it should be.
It has only been a week, though, and I keep reminding myself to just be in the moment. That is what this is all about for me. I have always felt a need for a planing, for having a plan, and still find myself clinging to this. But I am getting better at being more free of routine as each day passes. I do still like to think ahead to where we will be staying the next night, but am happy to change and move with where each day takes us and what mood we are in (or what needs we have, like a washing machine).
The first couple of nights were spent in campsites (aka fields) in the UK. They were pleasant enough and served the purpose for us making our way to Dover. Mabel even made friends with a couple of pet sheep on the second night at the place we stayed, so she was pretty happy about that.
Wednesday morning we found ourself at Dover in good time. We pulled into the port, and positioned ourselves in the allotted queue For boarding the Pride of Brittany.
The crossing was choppy. This seemed to make it all the more fun for Mabel to thus run up and down the aisles, smiling at the other passengers whether they smiled back or just looked green. We drove straight out of Calais and headed to Belgium. We stayed in a little town called Gistel for the night. It was just a stopover more than anything else, the next day we planned to visit Bruges. We did purchase some delicious pastries to brighten up an evening of sitting in a carpark behind a sport centre, though.
Thursday morning we headed in the direction of Bruges and parked just on the outskirts in a place called Damme. It was a serene cycle ride of 20 minutes from there along a picturesque canal into Bruges city centre. And what a pretty city we found. I loved looking up at all the architecture and different roof lines. We ate sandwiches in the main square and wandered about tiny cobbled streets for a couple hours before heading back to the van and driving to Eeklo to spend the night.
From Eeklo (in which we parked down by the harbour with strange statues along the bank keeping watch overnight), we heading to Ghent. Ghent was again another historically picturesque city in its centre. The outskirts felt more modern and young then Bruges though. We stayed by a boating lake, our view from the windscreen of rowers passing by with concentration and determination.
Ghent city centre, like Bruges, was full of canals lined by cobbled streets and interesting architecture. We also found people just seemed to leave there bikes unlocked and lying around any where. So many people cycle around here and the infrastructure is great for getting around on bike so it’s hard to see why you wouldn’t.
As the afternoon was turning to evening Mabel feel asleep in her c airier on my back. So we spotted a tiny alleyway off a Main Street that lead to a bar by the canal. We spent a lovely hour or so here sat by the canal as the sun moved its light around the corner of the building drinking local Belgium beer (the bar staff asking if we meant tourist local or proper local we went for proper and weren’t disappointed).
Saturday morning we cycled into Ghent again but just wandered about aimlessly. Well, actually we were looking for markets I had read about but the two we found turned out to be little more than a few stall holders with general tat – not the artisan markets I was expecting! So we left in the afternoon and headed towards Antwerp.
We parked just off the motorway in an Aire and a security guard there told us there was a beautiful park not far we could walk to. And it really was a beautiful park. On such a sunny day, we walked in the dappled shade of large planted trees, sat by a small pond full of huge fish, and there were ducks and deer and goat for Mabel to admire.
Sunday morning we had banana pancakes, a tasty treat and so easy to make, before cycling into the city centre. The harbour was under a large amount of construction so I cannot tell you if it would have been lovely, but I think it has more of an industrious purpose, or did and is now being gentrified. But the history centre was lively with a (this time good) market with live music and street food. We stayed for lunch and then decided it was only going to get hotter in a city and to head out towards the coast.
This brings us to near were we are now. We parked in a free stopover last night by the waterways and are now sat quietly in a camperplaats with wifi, showers and washing machine. And life is pretty good for now…. while we wander.
“And why not”
My actual text message may have been longer than this ( I tend to be a bit wordy when writing – apologies readers!). But that was the general gist of it when Craig asked if he thought we could actually do what we’d discussed last night; selling the house, buying a camper van, and traveling with a toddler around Europe.
His message back was much more succinct, “Fuck it. Let’s do it.”
So here we are with 5 weeks to go. We have been through so many ups and downs and twists and turns with the process of getting to this point. But I think my original feelings for this trip stay intact.
Craig is going into this journey searching for something, I believe. Myself, on the other hand, I want to be open to all the experiences we have. To experience the present, each moment, and see what it brings and what I can do with it at the time.
I don’t really have any expectations. It’s probably better that way. I know that things will be hard at times, I imagine very hard at times traveling with a toddler. But then I think this will make the amazing moments shine even more brightly, especially with a toddler.
We spoke the other night about why we never travelled before when we were younger. In all honesty, I don’t think we were interested or ready at that time. I think in a way, Mabel has been a catalyst for this journey. She has certainly opened my eyes to seeing the world afresh, living in the moment, and taking things more slowly. She has made us brave. And our coming adventure will need bravery.
I think this journey will be all things; exciting, challenging, and beautiful. I am looking forward to all these aspects and how they shape us while we wander…