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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