July 6th-7th……… Leeuwarden
In 2010 Elaine and I spent a month touring the Netherlands and we drove straight across the middle of the country and loved every minute of our trip. We met lots of Dutch people then and they all recommended that we should visit Friesland, the northern region of the country with all its waterways and lakes so this was our golden opportunity to do exactly that. We came out of Germany and headed for a lovely, lakeside campsite in Leeuwarden. Normally the first thing we do if we get to a campsite early enough is to settle ourselves in and then to rush off to see what the area is all about. This was the exception. The very helpful reception staff sent us off to a pitch right beside the river bank and the setting was so idyllic that the fishing rods were off the top of the van as soon as the canopy and windbreak were set up.
Elaine keeps saying that if I was a cormorant then I would starve to death. Despite showing her pictures of fish that I have caught in the past; she maintains that I am a failure as a fisherman. I only had a tin of sweetcorn to use as bait but it wasn’t long before I was rushing in to our van to show Elaine the first fish I caught. I will admit that I didn’t catch enough fish to feed the five thousand but there would have been plenty to feed Elaine and myself if I hadn’t carefully put each one back as soon as the hook was out of its mouth. The Dutch couple in the caravan next door were very friendly and they gave us lots of places to visit. Two English vans turned up later on and parked right behind us. We all went over to the club on the site to watch the Welsh lose against the Portugal team but we were all proud of their performance.
What a shame. Elaine decided that she needed to do a wash the next day so I was forced to carry on fishing. I think I have mentioned this before. My favourite song of all time is Chris Rea’s “Gone fishing” and now I was living out my dream remembering those wonderful words “Having nothing else to do; so I may as well go fishing.” What a small world. It turned out that the Dutch couple we were parked beside were best friends to another Dutch couple, Jan and Ricki, we had befriended during our stays at El Campello in Spain.
This whole area is full of lakes and wide and narrow waterways everywhere and you can see boats in every direction. My fishing licence had been revoked by Elaine so despite being parked right beside the waterway, I knew my fishing rods would stay where they were.
We walked to the bridge and crossed the river and walked down the waterway leading down to the village. We are lucky enough to have gone to Venice and this beautiful village was such a great a reminder of what we saw there. We passed countless places with boats for hire. We bought a map at the information bureau and it showed us that we needed to walk down to the end of this waterway and the village proper extended either side, at right angles from here.
Just as we arrived, there was a huge cheer and countless red and white balloons were released into the atmosphere. Please, if you ever get the opportunity then visit this beautiful, unique village.
Basically, the best way to describe this whole area is to say that it is like the Norfolk Broads on steroids and added to the mix is a million bicycles with the odd windmill here and there to break up the flat landscape. Our parking place for the night was at the rear of a hotel just south of the town and within easy walking distance of the town centre. Half way into town we passed a Lidl store so how convenient was that. The hotel had supplied us with a town map so we exactly where to go when we got to the centre. You do learn patience when driving or walking around this area.“As there are so many waterways criss-crossing everywhere; when the traffic and the waterway meet then the roadway is lifted to allow the tall masted boats to pass causing the inevitable delays.
A lot of the buildings that line the waterways were obviously warehouses in the past but now most have been converted into housing, shops and restaurants so you have to look above the shop windows to see the magnificent buildings that house them. The wider waterways around the town are lined with the larger boats, all moored ready for our inspection as we walk passed. All the small craft, and the day-boats for hire line all the smaller, inter joining canals. There are traffic lights to control the flow of the boats at each of the lifting road bridges and it was fun to watch the waiting boat owners trying to keep their craft steady whilst they waited for their turn to go through.
Whilst we stood admiring the Stadhouse, an 8 seater electric golf cart pulled up beside us and the sign said that we could get a free hour long tour of the town. Unfortunately the elderly gentleman driver spoke no English but off we went. Yorkshire Elaine was happy and had a huge grin on her face. A tour of the town for free. The fact that we did not have a clue what we were passing, we stayed on until the end.
What a great name for a pub! We passed this and I just had to take this picture. She says “Where are you off to?” He says ” I have seen the light. I’m going to Heaven” How can she ever argue against that?
Boats and boating is a massive feature of the area of Friesland and we have seen so many different designs of craft sailing up and down the waterways. We have seen fabulous glass fibre, millionaire play things. There are work boats and traditional styled, single masted yachts and everywhere we can see the typical styled Dutch boats. These boats have a unique design feature.
On either side of the boat they have what looks like very large tear drop shaped paddle and they are mostly highly polished, lacquered wood. To allow these boats to navigate inland then, just like our canal boats, they are shallow drafted and normally have a flat bottom. Especially for the high masted, traditional sailing boats, the “shield” is turned down 90 degrees so they now act as a keel for when they are out at sea.
We got quite wet on the way back to our motorhome because unexpectedly the heavens opened and our waterproofs were safely keeping dry back in the van. After drying out we sorted out where we would go for the last week and a bit of our holiday. So we have decided which places to visit and both agree we will spend the last three days in Amsterdam before driving to the Hook of Holland for our Monday afternoon crossing.
Harlingen is right at the coast of the North Sea so we were looking forward to seeing how the inland waterways would join the open sea and also to see the dykes that surround the country keeping the sea from flooding the land. Where a waterway crosses a road we have seen lifting bridges or the roads simply goes down under huge viaducts built so large craft have free passage without stopping the traffic to allow them to do so. We were on a 130 kph motorway driving towards Harlingen. Red lights started flashing and then a traffic light turned to red and all the traffic came to a stop.
The man in the next car got out and got something out of his boot. The road started lifting and soon the bridge section of the six lanes was standing upright. A series of boats passed both ways in front of us and then the motorway was made whole again once the bridge had slowly closed.
We couldn’t see the North Sea as we approached the town because of the huge banks that were between the road and the sea. The camper stop we were aiming for was on the docks on the opposite side of the town so we got to see that Harlingen was a good choice for an overnight stop. We fed the machine with €7.50 and soon we were striding off into town. Waterways, of course are everywhere and again lots of the buildings were old warehouses.
Boats are moored everywhere so we walked towards the sea and the port. Now we could see the huge locks that allow the sea going craft access the inland waterways. In the harbour we could see many, high masted Dutch styled boats and from one of these craft we could hear and see a jazz band performing. We walked down to have a look and Elaine couldn’t help herself and she was soon strutting her stuff to the lively music.
We had a good look around the town and the ferry terminal where ferries carry people and vehicles to Vlieland and Terschelling which are two of the large islands off the Dutch Coast.
The next day we were going to move on but we changed our mind. During the night the wind got up and I was woken with the shaking of the van in the near gale blowing in from the North Sea. There is a motorway that runs for about 30 kilometers straight across the sea at the mouth of the Ijsselmeer which is best described as a huge inland sea. Before the wind got up we had every intention of crossing this very exposed section of motorway to get us down to the west coast of the Netherlands. The van was shaking so much standing still but I dread to think what it would be like crossing the sea. We decided to wait a day. If the wind does not calm down then we will drive south to get to Amsterdam that way. Later on we discovered just how strong the wind had been. I looked round the back of the van and saw that our two bikes were uncovered. On closer inspection I found the cover was torn into 2 pieces by the force of the wind.