Hanging on in Holland

We may have over done the cockiness about the weather, Saturday evening it hammered down accompanied with gale force winds. Nothing to worry about, unless like us you had pitched up on a marina and were 5 ft from the waters edge!  Those dyke builders knew their stuff, come morning not an inch of water had crept over our tyres.

Over the weekend Iain noticed one of our headlight covers had been swipped. We found it very annoying that some lazy / tight sod couldn’t go and buy their own as they are £40 each. We spent a good few days be-moaning whether it was the German in the Fiat next to us on Saturday, or did it happen in Lidl car-park, or at the freecamp where the neighbour next door was very friendly etc. Puzzle solved when Iain looked at his photos yesterday- the cover has been missing since we left home!! So apologies to the Dutch and Germans, typical some git from Rhyl stole it! 😦 .

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Beware of alien chicks !

Sunday the wind dropped and the clouds stayed so we made some use of the myriad of cycle paths. Our latest awe and wonder is that not only are there bike paths, they are double lane paths – like a bike dual carriageway, pedestrians have their own separate paths and the cyclists have their own traffic lights at junctions – cycling does not get cooler than here. We took a circuit around one side of Lauwersmeer, stopping for coffee when we were hit by a quick shower, then coming back across the damn followed by a wander around the docks. Possibly one of the biggest fishing fleets we have ever come across – although as we come across it all moored up in dock its maybe not the most active of fishing fleets.

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Stunning Dutch house with our name on it!

Our route over the last few days has been a slow amble along the coast to Eemshaven (even managing to visit Noordkapp so that’s one off the Norway list then!!). The far North East of the country is basically empty, there is a dock which goes on for miles, hundreds of wind-farms and very little else. We drove around the docks mainly because we could, covering miles and miles there were no restrictions on where you could go so we drove down to the ferry for Borkum – the first of the German islands. For whatever reason there isn’t a ferry from Germany, possibly why there were something in the region of 200+ German registered cars in the foot-passengers car park. We considered crossing, saw the prices and re-considered, will save islands for Norway.

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Noordkaap – free and no-where near as cold as the other

Tourism at this end of Holland seems to revolve purely around the lakes, of which of course there are many, all of which have several harbours, more yachts that you could shake an oar at and plenty of windsurf and sailing schools. Looking out for a bit of culture to vary the watery aspects of the week we spotted Menkemaborg on the map so made a detour to see our first Dutch castle. Not so much a castle, more a large 14th century brick built, moated, manor house set in fabulous gardens. The ticket office hadn’t opened for the day (a sight of joy to Iain’s Yorkshireness) so we had a free wander around the grounds and were very taken with the gargoyles.

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On our way down the coast we happened on Appingedam, for us the quintessential Dutch town. The canal runs through the centre of town, where it is flanked by medieval houses and crossed by iron and stone bridges. The town is famous for it’s ‘hanging kitchens’, being extensions to the houses than literally hang out over the canals. Plenty of cutesy shops selling all sorts of tourist tatt but hardly a soul around even though it was a sunny June day. We were told by a Dutch man that this is the poor part of Holland, it doesn’t seem so looking at the houses and villages with everything kept as neat and tidy as a new pin.

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Appingedam

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Iain and friends at Appingedam quay

Last night we pitched up at a campsite in the village of Midwolda, there is no shortage of campsites here every village has at least two or three. This morning it was another cycle trip – this time over to Germany. We followed the Dollard Route for several miles to the border, which we assume we crossed as the car plates were white instead of yellow and had a D instead of NL.  On the way back we stopped at a bike shop, again, to look at electric bikes – Holland is dead flat and every Dutch person has an electric bike, second-hand ones cost as little as €200 – we have been tempted. Whilst having a peruse  we were approached by a Dutch guy who chatted then insisted we came to his house to see his motorhome.  As you do, we did.  A tour of his much loved Rapido, an introduction to Mrs Dutch and then a full tour of their very lovely bungalow and garden. They are heading for Denmark and Norway at the end of the month so we agreed to look out for each other (and maybe snaffle a go on their electric bikes – he owned the bike shop!).

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Heavenly Holland

The weather man he say sunshine so we abandoned plans to go inland and do culture and instead pointed the van North to follow the coast until we found somewhere to stop with a view of the sea. We had visited Zeeland and the coasts around there a few years ago and absolutely loved it, so had high hope for North Holland. Arrival at Den Helder and we were in no way disappointed with the trip up or the destination.

Once we came off the motorway it was onto single carriageways, we like the concrete humps in the middle of the road that put paid to over-taking, everyone just ambles along slightly under the speed limit and it feels very relaxed. The experience of driving on a main road with a barge or tall ship cruising alongside on the canal tops off our day everytime. We stopped to have a look at the beaches at Julianadorp and the new sea defences, mile after mile of white sands that could compete with beaches anywhere in the world, obviously needing to take away the force 5 winds that were blowing off the North Sea first!

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Julianadorp

We found an aire at the Willemsoord naval base, outside Den Helder. Really just a car-park with electric but very popular, we squeezed ourselves into the last spot with a view over the clipper moored on the harbours edge.  Whilst Iain sorted the van I popped round to the harbour-masters office and was relieved of a bargain €10, then told we could use the showers/loos / wifi all for free – despite the advertising of an extra €15 for same, bring on two nights there for those that love the cheap seats!

willemsoord (5)Saved enough on the aire for a cake treat!

Over half of the dock is still a Dutch naval base and it also houses the Dutch Naval Museum, consisting of several vessels and further displays in old naval buildings. Iain was giddy with the thought of going on a submarine, it was literally ‘parked’ up on the next car-park to us so to be fair it would have been mad not to. HNLMS Tonijn built in the 1962 and decommissioned in 1994 was somehow lifted thirty feet into the air and propped it against the main museum building. Any fears I had that it would be claustrophobic were well founded, I coped for less than 20 minutes, how people lived on there for weeks at a time is beyond me. Highlight of course was sitting in the commanders chair shouting “dive dive dive” whilst Iain checked out the view from periscope and moved all the controls, think “We Dive at Dawn” with poorer acting 🙂 .

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Commanders Chair 

At the other end of the docks stood one of the former Texel light-ships, with a small sign that it could be toured for €2. Iain offered to treat as he was desperate to have a wander around. We were met onboard by the crew who were all sat in the mess having a beer and told us to sit down until ‘afternoon tea’ was over. We spent 20 minutes sharing knowledge on the sea and ships (very one-sided as we could really talk cross channel ferry and they could talk anything from fishing boats to tankers). The five crew were all former seafarers who had given 3-4 days a week for the last 20 years to restore the Texel. We then had a personal tour of the light-ship, lasting over 2 1/2 hours, every tiny detail has been attended to so the ship is set out exactly as it was in the 1960’s testament to the labour of love of the crew.

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I am fairly sure if I look back at previous Blog posts I say every country we visit is a favourite, and it probably is for the reasons that everywhere is different to the previous place. In the case of the Netherlands it really is somewhere that is special but because it’s so close to home we tend to over-look the idea of coming here. The country is stunning, flat or not they have incredible scenery and whenever it starts to even consider looking a bit ordinary they stick in a canal, a windmill or a dyke. For us this is the most perfect ambling country and that is without even starting on the most amazing cycle network anywhere we have been.

From Den Helder we took the A7 motorway which crosses the Afsluitdijk, for some just a causeway, for us a major reason for being in this part of Holland. Just over 20 miles straight out across the sea linking Friesland with North Holland, it is like driving across the ocean, truly amazing.

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Taken from the viewing tower, not the moon

A third of the way over there was a viewing point, complete with tacky souvenir shop, lovely cafe on the water’s edge and a statue to commemorate the men who built the causeway nearly 100 years ago. Said statue is of a man bending to lift rocks, this caused much hilarity amongst the two coach loads of Spaniards who all queued up to have a photo of themselves touching his bottom!

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We were hoping for somewhere to stay on the dyke, the second viewpoint had a caravan park on the island but it was more like a sardine tin so we gave that one a miss. As we drove over the final rest area I happened to spy several motorhomes parked up below the locks. As I screamed stop, Iain slammed on the brakes and took a right turn Schumacher would have been proud of and found ourselves pitched up on the edge of the North Sea. We spoke to our neighbours who told us it was fine to stay 2-3 days and its free, so chairs, books and sun-cream out we made ourselves at home.

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Just a few hundred feet from our parking spot was the dyke entrance leading to the inland Ijsselmeer lake / sea. Every 20 minutes the motorway closed, the bridge opened and vessels, ships and boats of every size imaginable came and went through the locks. Several beautiful clippers, a couple of canal cruisers, dredgers, even the latest super yacht built in Holland and launched only a month ago. We fully expected to find ourselves jammed in between hundreds of vans by early evening, instead over half left early evening leaving just a handful of vans for a very peaceful night.

Discovering Delft

 

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Sunday evening arrival in the Netherlands and it suddenly felt like we were back in travel mode. Border Control stopped us briefly to ask if we were carrying any illegal immigrants! We were unsure whether we should joke they all go the other way so just said no and got waved straight through. Very impressed how easy it was to get out of the port at the Hook, straight onto a raised single carriageway with canals running down each side.  Plan A to head for an aire on the coast was quickly changed to destination Delft, mainly as we had taken a wrong turn and the signs were showing Delft was only 11 km away.

We followed Sat Nav to a campsite, to find it blocked off  at the bridge a few metres before the park, which meant we needed to cross over the motorway and try the other side. We saw another lost motorhome and waved for them to follow us (if we were going to get further lost we were dragging them down with us).  As we turned around and headed back down the road we had just driven up several blokes outside the pub all stood making turn-around gestures and laughing, obviously its a very regular occurrence watching motorhomes do three point turns on a fairly narrow lane with cars parked both sides, good we added to the evening entertainment for them :).

When we finally arrived at the campsite we were the head of a queue of four Brits off the ferry (our little convoy from the diversion had grown), Iain went to check-in whilst I stood and listened to a tirade from a Belgian lady who was somewhat unhappy that the Brits were blocking the entrance gate. The British had stolen over an hour and a half from her holiday by “keep blocking the bloody gate every day and I have to bloody queue behind you”. You have to love that even when they are well and truly annoyed every European can speak in perfect English to get the point across.  The two guys that had both got out of the motorhomes directly behind us both wandered off fairly sharpish leaving me to apologise on behalf of the British nation. She muttered we would know what she felt like when we were stuck in a queue – I wanted to reiterate we are British, therefore we queue as a national pastime but thought better of it in case we ended up pitched next to her.

Delft, not what we expected at all. A lot of little souvenir shops selling over-priced clogs, Delft printed on everything imaginable and cheese at prices Waitrose would shy away from. All that aside, it was brilliant mainly because its very Dutch! Everyone laid back, everyone friendly and as Iain said it felt we had slipped back into 1970. The shops were a mixture of uber trendy and vintage,  it all would have seemed at home in a 1976 disco. We ate in a cafe where the furniture was so circa MFI heyday it would be laughed at in the UK but it all looked well in keeping.  In the old town the square was empty, hardly a tourist in sight, we thought it would be packed with trippers in June so were pleasantly surprised to have the town pretty much to ourselves.

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If the clogs fit…..

The best shops for us were the cheese shops – for a self confessed cheese addict there is nothing better than tray after tray of free samples. Cheese with all the regular stuff like chillis and cranberries and then some that were a bit new to us such as with asparagus or truffles, although the cheese ‘with baby sheep’ was probably just a bad translation it was one I couldn’t bring myself to taste. We didn’t bother visiting the Delft pottery, we had seen more blue and white china in the square that we thought it was possible to see so we gave the factory tour a miss.

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Cheese with pretty much every ingredient we could think of

Highlight of the day (trip?) we finally got to eat proper Kroketten! I developed an addiction for these last time we came to Holland several years ago, beef and potato in sauce covered in bread crumbs, they have to be the perfect snack food.  The photo may not do them total justice, the bread was un-necessary. They are the best comfort food ever invented, although we haven’t  sampled the other Dutch national comforter in a bona fida coffee shop!!

Waiting for lunch           Kroketten 🙂

Whilst we did love that the town is all pedestrianised it’s quite daunting the speed the cyclists ride at. Not talking kids here, the majority of the speed demons would have been well past my age. So many times we have learned to ignore stereotypes but here it does seem that everyone from the age of 3 to 93 rides a bike, most at speeds that would qualify them for the Tour.  It is true though that you rarely see a fat Dutch person, well we didn’t see one and we looked all day. Due to the amount of cheese and Kroketten eaten today we will be joining the masses tomorrow out on our bikes to take in some miles of the glorious Dutch cycle network, although we are hoping its the route that goes past the Gouda chocolate factory :).

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