With the van packed and ready to go we headed off, but rather than leave the UK straight away we popped in and spend the evening in a “private aire” in Maidstone courtesy of a couple we met in France last year who had been avid readers of our blog.  Had a lovely meal (thanks!) and it was really good to catch up with people with similar outlooks on life and the wine and beer was good (make mental note:  next time take Malibu!)

From Maidstone in the morning we headed to Calais and then across towards Holland stopping in Lier in Belgium for the evening.  Some of the route to Lier was a bit bland making Belgium look rather dull, but Lier itself provides an area for motorhomes to stay as well as facilities.  The town is small but typical old European with a nice square with loads of bars with, of course, Belgian beer!  There was officially space for 2 vans, but there were 15+ there in various places.  In the morning we had a run along the canal and found a large and pretty nature reserve which is ideal for running or cycling.  Lier turned out to be a pretty and colourful place!

After a shower and filling back up with water we headed into Holland where we’ve been on a previous trip and aimed to fill in the gaps where we hadn’t been.  Wild camping isn’t allowed and aires are few and far between which does restrict some locations.  We aimed for Alblasserdam for no other reason than they have a new aire there so we thought we’d check it out and see what the town was all about and, of course, pop into the Tourist Information (VVV) and tell them how good they are!  First impressions of the aire are good – it overlooks a marina and there are clearly marked facilities for the van.  The town is okay and not outstanding but it does have a cinema where we watched “Knight & Day” in English which was funny light entertainment.  We tested our language skills reading the subtitles and recognised most of the locations used in the film from previous trips!  In the morning from Alblasserdam we cycled to Dordrecht which though it looked close, due to the fact it is an island with very few bridges (and probably because we got lost) the ride was longer than expected.

Dordrecht town initially looked pretty iffy, the sort that would just about do if you are bored, modern and quite uninspiring.  However delving deeper and finding the old town and the dock and harbour area opened up a much more interesting place which makes it worth a visit.  The church clock in the harbour area is worth listening to – very tuneful! 

A bit knackered following our ride we opted to move on and stopped at Vianen which is a small, quiet, old town.  Nothing special but a quiet spot next to the canal for the night (permitted) and giving us time to chill and spend some time learning German.

Leaving Vianen we headed to Amsterdam for the weekend opting to stay in Amsterdam Bos campsite.  Scarily this should be €26 a night but we got it slightly less as we convinced them we were little and didn’t need electricity.  Even so, not sure campsites at non-ACSI rates are worthwhile.  The same campsite out of season would be €15 from ACSI.

Anyway after pitching we cycled into Amsterdam which is around 8 miles through the forest and did our usual tour of the city.  The city was much busier than we’ve ever seen it possibly due to being a “Gay Pride” weekend.  This meant there was loads of entertainment, bands and music throughout the city with pretty much a good atmosphere.  As usual, we had dinner at CoCo’s Outback where they have simply awesome size portions filling us up nicely (I had a full rack of ribs, half a chicken and some chips.  No room for the Salad!).  Considering the weekend it was, I’d better not say I had my fair share of meat (!!!)  We stayed to enjoy the party atmosphere and the only real shame was the amount of pretty and fit girls who were obviously removing themselves from the gene pool. 

Getting late after a few beers we cycled back which was a challenge due to the forest being pitch black, a few beers in our system, and typically weak bike lights….  Needless to say we slept well not waking up till 11am which is completely unheard of for us!

In the morning, or more likely afternoon, we headed back towards the city when we got dumped on by heavy rain that looked set in – and as we were dripping wet before we even went a couple of miles so  we decided to come back and dry off and change and wait for the weather to change.  Feeling sorry for the other campers, soaked, cuddled in their damp tents as we had our wet clothes drying nicely in the bathroom with the heating on, and we were dry, in clean warm clothes enjoying a cuppa.   We’ve been there…  The weather never really broke – each time it stopped raining and we were thinking of going out it started raining again.  Cue an afternoon of reading, language lessons and a movie.

Leaving the campsite we headed towards an old fortified town called Naarden which is very similar to the old town Bourtange in Northern Holland but a bit bigger.  A lovely free motorhome parking area is provided overlooking the “moat” and a bridge, and its a short walk into the island town up and over the fortifications to a nice small shopping street and bars.   The weather is frustrating – alternating between very hot/sunny to monsoon rains with no notice which makes each walk like Russian Roulette!   Nearby is Bussum which is small modern and functional shopping area with a McDonalds if you are desperate!

We enjoyed a late evening walk around Naarden which was too quiet for us to have a beer, so we ended our first week catching up with Jason Bourne!  (I think Mel fancies Matt Damon…)


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