July 12th ……Den Helder
In the last couple of years we have driven on some amazing roads that are nothing else but wonderful engineering wonders. We have crossed viaducts that take your breath away and gone through tunnels that take you through mountains. On the way to Den Helder we drove about 30 kilometers across a motorway built on top of a dam which separates the North Sea which was to our right and a huge man made fresh water lake that runs all the way to down to Amsterdam to our left.What an amazing feat of engineering. Alongside the motorway, there is a cycleway and beyond that is a dike which keeps the ferocity of the North Sea at bay. We stopped at the rest area on an island and read all about how it was all done and went up a viewing tower and got a really good view of the magnificent roadway
We arrived at the camper stop which was in the grounds of an old naval base. When we went into the town there was a very busy street market and there were bands playing in different areas so it was a lively bustling town centre. When we got back to the motorhome we finally had a decent Wi-Fi signal so we didn’t even go into the naval museum which was housed in all the large buildings all around us. I worked on the last blog and once that was published then I walked around the area looking at all the fascinating boats that were moored around there.
In front of the whole of a battleship top half there was a well-designed structure in memory of those that had lost their life at sea. When the sun is in the right place then body shaped shadows are cast onto the ground.
The next morning we drove thirty seven miles to get to the beautiful town of Hoorn. We intended to park on the harbour side but the gate was locked and a sign said there was a fault. Despite the rain, Elaine jumped out of the van to try to attract the attention of the harbour masters office. A German motorhome pulled up behind us but they gave up and drove on. Elaine persevered and finally the gate opened. The rain soon stopped and we walked the short distance into town. There was an international swimming competition going on and as we approached we could hear lots of bugles, drums and cheering as people were supporting the swimmers as they dived into the sea to start the 5 kilometers race circuit.
We walked on and reached the town centre and here there was another street market going on. This was a totally different market to the one we had seen in Den Helder. It was hard to see what the first stallholder was selling because the stall had ladies flocked around it. Finally someone moved. The stall was packed with wool of every colour. Knitting, weaving and wool spinning must be very popular Dutch past-times as the whole of the long High street had stalls, one after another, mobbed by women of every age.
All around the town were some very old buildings and many of them were built in the 1600s. The only thing was that the stalls were in front of them so I had to go back into town later on to get the photos I wanted.
Whist in the Netherlands it does seem quite noticeable that the Dutch may be great knitters but they are not dog lovers because it was rare to see someone out walking their pet. Whilst in a chemist this very smart lady caught my eye because of the occupant of the push chair she was pushing around the store.
I just couldn’t resist the photo I took of her and her cat as they exited the shop. Long live all eccentrics!
July 15th – 17th ……Amsterdam
We had just three nights left before our drive to the Hook of Holland to catch our ferry back to England. We went to Amsterdam for one day six years ago when we spent a month driving across the centre of the Netherlands so we decided to spend our remaining few days in this wonderful city. We headed to the City Camp which is not the cheapest of options at 25 euros a night but its location just across the water from the city centre is just so convenient. As it was only 21 miles we were soon set up and we were heading towards the free ferry that runs regularly into the heart of the city and the landing stage is just behind the main Amsterdam train and coach station. Just across the tram- tracks from the station is the visitor information office and once armed with a map, off we went to explore the city. In one of the squares an Australian lad was setting up a street show so we stayed to watch.Not only did he eat fire, juggle and sword swallow but he was so double jointed that he could bend his body into impossible shapes all the time keeping up a hilarious dialogue.
The main danger you have to look out for are the cyclists as you walk around the city. I know that to qualify as a proper cyclist in Amsterdam you have to have a stern, miserable facial expression. You have to cycle at full speed at any unfortunate pedestrian that dares to walk across your path whilst ringing your bell furiously: demanding your right of passage. All these cyclists probably compare notes about how many pedestrians they have cursed and sworn at during the day.
That first day we had a great time roaming the streets and there were photo opportunities everywhere especially when Elaine decided to try on a pair of wooden clogs. I do not know how she got the continental shoe sizes so wrong. The unique, tall, narrow houses that lean out over the streets and canals below are quite fascinating and I certainly wouldn’t want to be in the house removal business in Amsterdam where all the furniture has to be dragged up the outside of the house by rope and pulley because of the narrow stairs.
We had the whole day in the City on the Saturday and if anything there were twice the number of pedestrians and the cyclist army were out in force. We went straight to the tourist information bureau and bought tickets for a full day, hop on hop off canal cruise around the city.
The added bonus was that whilst we were on the boat we were safe from rampaging cyclists. Luckily the commentary was in English and we learnt lots about the history of Amsterdam and the canals. In this way we got to see a lot more of the city than we had 6 years ago. As the red light district is close to the main station we did have a wander around these fascinating streets but just because it was a really hot day I was surprised that so many girls chose to sit in their windows in just their underwear. I was told that the rules have changed over the smoking of marijuana in “coffee” shops and foreigners can now participate without a permit. I was surprised, however, at the number of cannabis cigarettes being openly smoked in the streets.
On the Sunday we just relaxed around the van and on Monday morning we drove to the port at the Hook of Holland and the sea was like a millpond and finally this year’s European tour was at an end as we arrived in Harwich. After 9 months driving on the right hand side of the road, I must now get used to driving on the left again. Since October 2015 we have driven 8,027 miles and have visited Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and the Netherlands. Thank you to all those that have taken the time to read the blog about our travels and if you should think that you would like to do something similar and would like to chat or correspond, then please contact me through the blog address.