Week 1 – Home to South Holland
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The week prior to departure we spent saying our goodbyes to family and friends as well as packing and getting everything sorted and the van rebuilt after upgrading the batteries. Then departure day suddenly appeared and it was time to go! Needless to say, it was raining! Everything was packed and primed, and we sat in the van wondering what we had forgotten…. After checking and rechecking all the essentials, and going through our departure checklist (one NASA would be proud off) – we went off into the pouring rain and naff driving conditions around the M25 for the last time for a while.
Getting through Dover to the ferry was a breeze – though we grounded my back-box when boarding the ferry. Oops – may be a slight design flaw there… Regardless we got on and made sure we had our free coffee and pack lunch. I checked to ensure Mel liked her lunch as it was likely she’d be tasting it more than once. The crossing was pretty rough, which unsurprisingly is also a term I’d use to describe how Mel looked during the crossing – she survived though and the fishes went hungry.
The weather conditions in France, Belgium and Holland were as bad as UK. As the countries blurred Belgium stood out as the driving standards seemed to plummet. We survived and TomTom was absolutely perfect throughout. We opted for TomTom to route us via the Westerscheldetunnel toll tunnel as before leaving we decided it was both quicker and cheaper if we went via the tunnel if they treated us as Class 1 (car) or Class 2(towing car) – and not Class 3 (lorry or motorhome!). The tunnel was impressively long and was respite from the rain – and then we got to the tollbooth….. The man looked at our height and then “Class 3 €16.70” appeared. Bugger! We opened the window and the guy spoke to us in Dutch. So we spoke back in English and shrugged and mumbled a bit (in a typically French way), and the screen changed to €6.30! Result! Mel paid and we sped off in the only way a fully laden front wheel drive camper can before he changed his mind.
Due to some existing plans, we are treating the first two weeks as a holiday rather than a tour, as we can’t venture too far from Amsterdam as we need to be there for the Amsterdam half marathon. So for the first week we planned to stay in areas of Holland we know well from previous holidays to allow us to settle in a bit more and get used to things working; and then start to explore new places in week two – and then after Amsterdam – the whole trip will be random!
Our destination for the first two nights was to be in the corner of Zeeland called Baarland. Unsurprisingly there were loads of sheep around and we had some entertainment watching a farmer round them up in his 4×4 and his dog who appeared to go to his window to listen to instructions!
The campsite was pretty good – has a bar with some good beer – and an indoor pool, as well as impeccable clean facilities. All for €12 per night – bit of a bargain. The weather forecast that predicted rain was, as usual, wrong – and so we undertook a 10 mile run in lovely sunshine and lunch outside basking in the sun.
On leaving the site we headed to Goes – a lovely busy Dutch town with a sense inspiring marketplace with plenty of fresh produce, fish and cheese. Unfortunately the van was still brimming from the Tesco visit we did prior to leaving so we had to give it a miss 🙁 We managed to get into someones WiFi to check email and read some more lovely “Good Luck” messages – thanks!
For our third night we decided to get into wild camping practice, so we headed South West to another corner of Zeeland and the port town of Vlissingen. We actually parked about 2 miles out of town along the coast and had a walk along a really quiet and clean sandy beach. The sun was out hinting at what it would be like in summer! There were a few discrete parking places right next to the beach (with a big dyke in between) so we chose one suitable for the evening. In the sun we cycled into town and were surprised to find a bustling cafe culture centric place with oodles of bars. Of course we chose one and had a refreshing beer, played with the cannons, and almost got lost on the way back.
As hoped, the following day gave us superb weather. We left the van in our camping spot and cycled a 12 mile round trip into Middelburg which is a picturesque little town that would fit into any normal WWII film. It was however badly bombed during the war and is mainly rebuilt, so a little fake really. Yet another town where we noticed the Dutch all seem to be rather slim! We haven’t seen anyone stuck in a doorway yet – unlike our local town….. After our ride we took out our PowerKite to the beach, and after some “tuning of the strings” Mel had some more lessons and got the knack of it quite well – keeping it up for long enough to makeany man proud. The wind was lovely and constant and just enough power to allow “beach dragging”. Knackered, after a late lunch, we decided to move on and find our new home for the night. After a few poor attempts we resorted to our reserve plan and went to “Port Zeeland” campsite. We were expecting a quiet site in the middle of nowhere – which would have been fine – but in fact it is a campsite attached to Center Parcs! This meant we also gained entry into Center Parcs and were able to get full use of their facilities, and free use of their massive indoor pool! Not only that, but the surroundings are a natural wildlife haven – so absolutely perfect for us. So we booked in for two nights (€16.20 per night – naturally discounted J) and ensured we made full use of their facilities!
After some good country camping, we decided we fancied a night on the town and headed towards Gouda to one of the few Aires in the Netherlands. TomTom was once again superb and got us through the main road network and into Gouda without any incident, and direct to the Aire hidden in a car park behind a police station. Very basic, but secure and only €5 a night, yet 2 minutes walk into Gouda centre. We managed to get some WiFi in Gouda, so sat next to the canal and caught up on some emails – and heard yet another bank has been nationalised, the Euro is gaining against the pound; property prices plummeting and theeconomy was stuffed. This was just the front page of the BBC website – so we thought it wiser to close the page down and read no more! We made the decision when we left to not bring the satellite dish and therefore avoid live TV for the trip. We do however have recordings of some programs we’ve recorded and saved over the last few months and whilst our system at home records the things we like ready for the next trip. This means no news or crap channel surfing TV and therefore we find better things to do!
After a noisy night, we had another tour of Gouda and stumbled on another fresh produce market, and after some minor shopping we packed up and relocating to a small site near Leiden which is the first we’ve used our bargain pre-pay camping cheques. This gave usaround 40% off normal prices which was pretty fair! The weather has been so kind to us, another glorious day, so we cycled to the beach at Katwijk for a few hours lazing, then back to Leiden for a couple of beers; pancakes; and apple pie whist basking in the sun in the town square! We, well Mel, got a little rude – as the menu was offering “Slagroom for €2 extra”. So we asked our cute littlewaitress what Slagroom actually was, and almost laughed a little too much when she told us it was whipped cream….
When the sun is out, the west coast of North Holland is stunning – miles upon miles of sandy beaches with numerous bars overlooking them. All very tempting, but we must resist else we will end up like barrels when we return! After the beers we did have, ah, we cycled back and made plans for the following week whilst catching up with emails on the campsite free (!) WiFi.
We’ve survived a week – and the van held up well. Only one problem so far, in that overnight we heard the water pump cut in. As the water system is under constant pressure, a pump should only run if water is leaving the system somewhere – and with us both in bed it wasn’t via a tap. In the morning we think we isolated the fault to a loose jubilee clip – so a quick fix and all seems to be well again.