Our Trip 7 diary has been added here
CLICK HERE or also available off menus above
So far only in Holland but will be heading into Germany and then up to Denmark over the next few weeks…
Our Trip 7 diary has been added here
CLICK HERE or also available off menus above
So far only in Holland but will be heading into Germany and then up to Denmark over the next few weeks…
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 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 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… 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!
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 – 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!
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 was absolutely perfect throughout. We opted for 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. 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.
5 October – 15 November – 41 days.
Trip distance: 2209 miles (excluding Home to/from Dover)
Trip cost: €2098 (c. £1690) – €51.17 or £41.22 per day
|Entertainment (beer, pubs, meals out, museums)||€805|
|Essentials (laundry, household)||€55|
|Aires (or equiv)||12||€106|
|Camping Cheque Site||2||€30|
This trip was a test as much as for the van as it was for us – to see whether we could survive in a small van for a long time. Starting in Holland which we know well, and then into Germany which we didn’t, it would give us many challenges! We knew this trip would mainly be a sightseeing tour which would mean moving frequently and lots of exploring taking in new sights with little time to rest. Future trips will have more rests and chill time in!
Holland was as lovely as ever – and we will go back again in the warmer months. Germany was a bit of a surprise – we were constantly astounded by some of the stunning sites we saw – though most has been rebuilt since it was destroyed in WWII. The old East Germany is currently getting substantial investment and reconstruction and as such many places are improving much beyond their neglected original states. That said, some of the places in the northern and eastern parts are not attractive enough to make a visit. Central and Central-West Germany seemed to offer us more fun without having to go to the cities. We will return to Germany to cover the southern areas possibly on a trip to Eastern Europe…
Overall the van survived; we got on fine and we enjoyed the compressed space! And we saw far more and enjoyed the experience more than we expected. More rest and chill days will be planned in future trips – but it’s a challenge to justify doing nothing when there is so many new things to do! We didn’t get bored; didn’t have time to read as much as expected; the 4 magazines still are not fully read; and we didn’t go mad!
Items thought essential, but not
Changes to plan/views
What we need to take more of as we could not buy abroad
A really good start to our adventures! May there be many more to come!
Well – what can we say!
Day was perfect running conditions. We were nice and relaxed.
However, at 8 miles we both died! A lot of pain as the picture of Mel at least shows. I thought I was going to do a really poor time till Mr 1:35 pace man came past – git – and I managed to dig in and follow him for a few miles (in pain) – then overtake him with 1km to go getting around 1:34:11 ish. Not bad, but we hoped for better. Maybe Amsterdam took its toll?
More distance training due then…
We’ve survived a second week – and surprisingly just in budget! Had a great night out in Amsterdam last night and are stuffed as a pig today (me specifically should be described as “stuffed with a pig”).
Had a busy week (yeah yeah – everything is relative) – over to Arnhem (bridge too far); then to a dolfinarium (Dutch can’t spell Dolphin); then to Amsterdam getting ready for our ½ marathon on Sunday. (Though guess by the time we upload this we’d have already done it!)
Hopefully we’ve also uploaded our latest photos and week 2 diary – both are accessible above on the menu all being well J
Hope you are missing us – (hmmm) – and hope to see some of you briefly when we return!
Oh – blimey – we’re so glad we opted not to bring the satellite TV – so we’ve not seen the news. All I’ve had is a few funny “Merchant Banker” emails come through – which means if there are jokes about them – then the economy is stuffed. I am now wondering what on earth I stuck loads of money into our pensions for? All gone by the sound of it. Shit. May mean the dreaded W word again…. L
Thanks for the emails we get! And yes, sorry for not updating blog or anything else. Problem is – we are getting Internet access when out and about mainly due to kind people leaving their home wifi on default settings J So we can read and reply to emails absolutely fine. However we are writing the diary and blog on the big laptop my last company kindly “let me keep” which we don’t carry when about, and sadly some campsites charge obscene amounts for wifi. So things will be updated – but not as often as planned.
PS – anyone who is trying to text us, best you text Mels mobile – as are super-duper roaming SIM still seems to have problems getting incoming texts L
Really pleased how week 1 has gone – all to plan so far and the weather has been very kind! Assuming this is on the Internet, then the likelihood is that we’ve also uploaded our Week 1 diary entry here. Also we’ve uploaded more pictures and geo tagged them so you can see where they were taken. This is more for our benefit for the future than anyone else’s – but you may find it clever. Photos linked here.
The attached picture is the rough route of where Week 1 took us – and the blue triangles are where we stayed