Week 3 – Amsterdam to Hamburg
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We definitely overdid the walking yesterday – we ache like hell which isn’t a good sign…. In order to stock up on energy (honest!) we visited the local shop to buy some chocolate. Now we know why the Dutch are so thin – quite simply there wasn’t any!!! We had to resort to biscuits with a small slither of chocolate spread in between! Not good as we’ve now exhausted our English stock of goodies. Then the race….
Running conditions were superb, so we had a late breakfast and cycled the 4 miles to the start full of enthusiasm. The atmosphere was superb – loads of music, people blasting stereos out of their flats playing “eye of the tiger” and the like, bands of all kinds and a large crowd cheering us on. We both started in different groups, Ryan in the front group, and Mel back a bit. The first few miles were fine, and up till around the 8 mile mark we were both feeling good….. Then we both floundered and ran out of steam – Mel was sick and we both slowed down to well below our normal pace. When “Mr 1:35 Pace Man” came past Ryan, he had just about enough anger brewing to keep up till the 1km remaining mark, then was able to pull away in pain till the finish – clocking a respectable 1:34:11 but a fair few minutes below PB. Not a great race for us – incredibly tough – maybe a lack of distance training we need to address.
After cycling 4 miles back to the site, we decided to go out for a meal and wandered into the nearest “Real Dutch” village. Out of a choice of eateries we randomly chose the furthest away which was packed – but no menu outside so we went for it anyway. After a couple of beers we got the menu – in Dutch – and asked if they had an English menu. “No!” was the short and sharp reply, and no offer of translation assistance was forthcoming. Serves our right really – we have become so blazon with English and never tried to translate anything. Which meant the translator was back in the van… Ryan chose a random dish off the menu, and Mel chose the only one that vaguely looked vegetarian. To our pleasant surprise, both were superb hot and tasty dishes! After another beer or so we headed back and slept like logs.
On the Monday we awoke aching quite badly, but excited knowing from here on it’s off into the unknown and to places we’ve never been to! South Holland has been our comfort zone as we know it well – but from here – we have absolutely no idea what to expect! After consulting our maps and guides, we headed first to Cruquius to see a working museum of a massive old steam pump and to get an insight into the Dutch water management showing how they can keep their feet dry when they live below sea level. It was full of volunteers and we virtually had a 1-2-1 tour with a very knowledgeable and interesting chap who started the engines and demoed them just for us! From there we headed to Zaandam to see Zaanse Schans which is an open air museum on Dutch life. Entry to the open area is free but parking is quite expensive – so if you can park outside and walk you’d save €7. Mainly a tourist trap, but the main purpose was to go and look around a working windmill (€2.50 each) which was quite enlightening – and the surrounding area was lovely. A free ferry to Zaandam and a “provided walk” through the town was quite good – seeing traditional and real Dutch living.
So much for a rest day – we got back to the van aching, limping, and moaning about how old we felt. We set off and continued heading North on the A7 crossing the massive dyke (20 miles) in the top left corner of Holland – stopping to take a look in a howling gale – and continued to Zwaagwesteinde where we’d spotted a lovely little overnight camping place next to a canal/marina for €6. Bargain!
After a lovely tea and shower and nights kip, we awoke to intermittent rain. This was disappointing as we had hoped to visit one of the West Frisian Islands to chill out, fly the kite and have some long nature walks. We decided the weather would have ruined this so we parked this for a future trip and headed towards Groningen. We’d eyed up a little “site” in one of our guides on a watersports lake 6 miles west and so headed there. Sadly no watersports in October – but the site has everything you need for €5.50! Another bargain found, we set up camp and cycled a 13 mile round trip into Groningen.
Groningen is a surprisingly busy and unique town – lots of character and a typical shopping centre, yet loads of little streets containing bespoke and unique shops selling all manner of wares. We managed to locate a decent WiFi link in range of a large pub, so settled there and caught up on our Internet stuff and replied to all our emails.
After Groningen we spotted a small historic “town” called Bourtange which is surrounded by star shaped canals making it highly fortified. We located a campsite right next to it and headed there. Whilst the town is an impressive spot for a beer in the square (and a sweet shop), in truth there isn’t much there that will interest you for more than a couple of hours. So well worth the visit – just don’t go out of your way. Whilst still aching, we decided to go on a small run “to Germany” – so a 5 mile gentle jog to loosen our muscles up a bit, then settled down for the day and watched a movie.
Finally, the following day we were leaving Holland to the unknown territory of Germany – deciding on visiting Bremem before heading to Hamburg for the weekend. Mel took the wheel for the first stint and had to deal with the “unrestricted” German roads where other cars seemed to be at Vmax… Bizarrely, there was an overhead gantry with speed cameras – so they either slow down for them or just blatantly ignore them.
We located a private Stellaplatz just off the centre of Bremem – again TomTom was superb especially at rerouting due to road closures. Bremem is reminiscent of some UK cities – mixing a few old buildings with modern. Overall though a bit disappointing and a bit messy – they had a lovely old building with a 1960’s extension on the roof! Looked awful! The market square had a market and fair in – but really quiet and unexciting. Worth seeing the town, but not one we’ll remember.
In order to try and see some more interesting German sites, we asked TomTom to route us to the picturesque town of Stade via the back roads. This it did really well, though we have to admit many of the roads were just tree-lined rural roads and the villages and small towns didn’t tempt us to stop. Getting to Stade, we parked in the town Wohnmobilstellplatz (Special motorhome parking) and ventured into town. Tourist information was great and we had a good map to wander round the town and see all the sites. Venturing back to the van we decided to go out for a meal in one of the many restaurants. We opted for a fish restaurant and did decide to take the mini laptop! Good job too – our host did try and help – but the translator was superb and we actually knew what we ordered!
After a couple of good German beers, we left and slept well ready to go to Hamburg in the morning. According to one of our guides, there was a special parking place just south of the City… TomTom did its best despite multiple road closures, and then once in the city we made some accidental detours and unfortunately the site appears to be in the middle of a building site! With closed bridges and roads, we managed to get in with about half a dozen other vans. No idea what has happened, but we parked there for the night, for free, with cars fighting for expensive places a few 100 meters away! Not entirely convinced its legit – but hey!
Hamburg is a superbly impressive and photogenic city. The centre has so many “wow” sites no matter which way you look. Considering this city was too bombed heavily during the war, it has kept the old and rebuilt wisely. We have to say, so far, it is the most impressive city we’ve seen – though it is vast and our legs are tired! The red light area however is very seedy and probably best avoided. Part of an old church, St. Nikolas, has been converted to a monument with a lift in with some lovely panoramic views of the city. We’ve been informed and have read about a Fischmarkt which is supposed to be awesome on Sunday mornings – so the start of Week 4 has been planned!