Week 2 – East Holland to Amsterdam
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On starting week two, we ventured east via Zoetermeer – which has a lovely lake with some calming tree basked and open walks around it. Very dog friendly and so we enjoyed a couple of hours with a picnic catching the sun, reading, and having a laugh at the animals playing in the lake. A word of caution – some of the roads surrounding this place are very narrow indeed… Sadly, the town itself appeared to be just a beautifully positioned housing estate without anything else going for it.
During our first week, we were informed that “Wild Camping” in the Netherlands is prohibited, and if caught you can get a €150 on the spot fine. A little harsh, yet we saw little evidence of any information on this. We did however note it was commented on within our guide books, and we also noticed we didn’t see anyone else doing it. When heading East towards Arnhem – we had a GPS location of a possible site next to a canal/river – so as usual – TomTom directed us there. However, it looks like the authorities are really anti this approach as there is now a height barrier and a notice (in Dutch only) which roughly translated to “It has been prohibited to spend the night here and elsewhere in the municipality on or to the way or on public ground.”. Ah. As we’re only in Holland for another week and a bit, then off to campervan friendly Germany, we have decided not to risk getting too wild here….
Instead, we located a bargain site in the middle of a forest just north of Arnhem for a bargain €14 a night – and as seems to be the norm, containing a large heated pool and all regular facilities. Having cycled around 10km to get into Arnhem (which was about 4km away) we decided we’d not leave again without a GPS! Arnhem is surrounded by some beautiful and dense forests with numerous different colour leaves which were dropping around us like snowflakes! Autumn is here…. Sadly though, Arnhem was a disappointing town – after being left virtually totally wasted in 1945, the architecture was 50’s though to 90’s, and just didn’t seem to have much character. The main purpose of our visit was to look at John Cross Bridge – the “Bridge Too Far” from Operation “Market Garden” in 1945, as well as the mini museum next to it. A very moving little area showing the different facts and fiction of the operation – unsurprisingly the real version was much worse than the film version. Incidentally, the film was made in a town further up the river where the original buildings still stand.
As this isn’t entirely a holiday, the following day we decided we’d have to have a chore day and do some washing, clean the van, and generally tidy up. After an obligatory swim of course – so not too taxing! And of course, not forgetting the usual forest run, walk and picnic!
In one of our guidebooks we had seen a Dofinarium advertised near the town of Harderwijk which conveniently was half way to Amsterdam where we needed to be later for our race. We found a convenient site that looked quite good, but in fact it was like something out of The Shining! It was a huge site but deserted except us and a few Halloween mascots… Once we arrived we went on a run to survey the area – our last before our race. Bizarrely Mel was on form and it turned out to be our fastest run for months! Our luck with the weather was slipping – so we cycled 4 miles to the Dolfinarium in the cold and rain – though this is really what we expected in October! The cold put a damper on the outing, but even so, the animals were superb and made up for it. The sea-lion show was like no other – not simply the animals performing tricks, but a choreographed “play” of around half an hour with pre-recorded sound effects that the sea lions met on cue! (okay – their handlers bribed them with fish at the right time!) We also saw a dolphin show (the biggest in Europe apparently) which was lovely – the dolphins were superbly agile and involved. Whilst not lovers of captive animals, all the animals we saw seemed in great condition and mentally fulfilled.
The weather improved on the way back, but our luck stayed down. Mels bike developed a noise which turned out to be a bent derailleur – probably from how we lock the bikes together. Sadly this meant an hour or so job taking both bikes apart so I could see what shape things should be and try and get it working again. Thank goodness we packed a full toolbox of socket set; allen keys; mole grips; spanners; and the all-fixing hammer.
Off we then headed to Amsterdam – to a campsite just south in Amstelveen. We used the ACSI discount card again and obtained perhaps 50% discount – so well worth having. Due to the half marathon we opted to stay here for 3 nights to allow us to see the city and also rest before the day. As part of our “not doing much” plan we regrettably decided to walk to the sports stadium (4 miles) to collect our race numbers, and then decided to walk into the city – another 4 miles or so! Not really resting! It did take us through massive and beautiful park – Amsterdamse Bos which unfortunately for us was much bigger in real life than in appeared on the map.
Even though we’ve been to Amsterdam a fair few times, we’d never been to see Anne Franks house, and this was somethingwe both wanted to do. Expecting a tourist trap, we were pleasantly surprised at how tasteful and moving it was. It does highlight to us that we do want to visit Auschwitz on a future trip. There was an interesting interactive “tolerance test” at the end which provides some interesting and differing results. Afterwards we decided to have a well earned beer or two and wander round our favourite streets. Near Madame Tusauds we stumbled on a small funfair with some absolutely excellent rides – some really high carousel (and I mean high!), bungee rockets, and all sorts. Mel was nauseous at just looking which ruled out having a go!
After deciding to make a night of it, we headed to our favourite Amsterdam restaurant – “CoCos Outback” – which provides good hearty Australian tucker. We originally found this place around 12 years ago when we watched Euro ’96 there and watched England beat Holland 4-1 – and we were the only English in the place! Apart from being served by cute Aussie chicks, they serve huge portions of food – I had “limited Ribs & Chicken” which was absolutely massive. They do an unlimited version where they just keep bringing you more till you pop for a few euros more – but there isn’t a hope in hell of us having that – especially after we forgot to bring our lunchbox to fill up! Sometime later when we were able to stand, we went off for the night in Amsterdam exploring some interesting areas… We wisely decided to get the metro back and fell instantly asleep!
Aching and feeling like we’d run our race already, we decided Saturday would be a day to chill, read, and do more washing and “look forward” to our race tomorrow….
After a typical holiday duration of two weeks, we thought we would better check that everything was as good as we expected: Having fun: Yes! Doing everything we want: Yes! Read all our magazines: No! Read all our books: No! Got bored yet: Not close! Missed out on anything: No! So really positive from us both – even without our TV – we’d not even had the chance to read the few magazines we brought with us! It is all looking good for the rest of the trip without us having to resort to playing *snap* to relieve boredom! And amazingly – so far under budget!