To make the miles of crash barriers go past quicker, we have an eclectic mix of favourite sing-a-longs to hum and drum to like John Miles’s – ‘Music was my first love’, or Another one bites the dust played with the volume on max. On the Mongol Rally we had two that got into our heads, How D’Ya Like Your Eggs in the Morning by Dean Martin & Helen O’Connell and in a similar vein? the Kings Of Leon track Sex on fire.
On this trip Promises by Calvin Harris and Sam Smith haunted us for a while. Then by chance we found we’d just missed a live concert near to Ełk in Poland by Polish siblings Kwiat Jabłoni a quick bit of digging and we found Drogi proste “Straight roads” so this has become the song for this trip.
We hadn’t known when we chose to go, that Leeuwarden was voted as the European Capital of Culture in 2018. It’s a bustling university town full of narrow shopping streets and young’uns on bikes, zooming around the crisscrossed network of canals.
Komoot helped us find an interesting route and we set off on the bikes. The cycle paths are well used and you need your wits about you to avoid a collision. Once out in the country we navigated towards a windmill. At one time the town had more than 130, today, there is only one surviving.
There are over 1,000 windmills in Holland, mainly used for pumping water out of the lowlands and back into the rivers beyond the dikes so that the land could be farmed.
We stopped to take a picture and got talking to a couple who were in training to become volunteer windmill guardians. This involves a comprehensive understanding of the workings of the medieval mill and they need to pass an exam to qualify. Today they were practicing how to reef in the sails based on the wind forecast.
Stopping by to collect a map, the very friendly woman in the tourist information shop told us the red heart shapes in white stripes of the Frisian flag may resemble hearts, but represent seven water-lilly leaves.
She also told us that Leeuwarden is Friesland’s provincial capital and is the only Dutch province with its own official language. Frisian is still taught at the local schools alongside Dutch, so the people in Friesland are often accused of speaking… yes that’s right, double-Dutch!
Later, whilst watching the boats go by we noticed a few local craft were displaying the blue, white and red striped flag…
Discovering the next day was market day we had to take a look at all the stalls selling cheese (Gouda, Edam etc). The Frisians are said to be a tall, big-boned and light-haired people This stacks up as we saw one guy walking around the market who looked at least 7ft tall. (incidentally men and women of the Netherlands remain the tallest people on the planet).
Wandering around looking at all the food, it didn’t take us long to work up an appetite. When Lesley suggested Brownies & downies I asked what’s downies? Well what a lovely surprise, this restaurant started in 2010 and has grown to be part of a network of 50+ B&d franchises throughout the Netherlands, all staffed by people with intellectual disabilities.
I wasn’t expecting such a fancy ice coffee and Lesley’s mint tea with mint leaves was also special, but most memorable of all, were the waiting staff who we incredibly polite, helpful, confidently taking our order in English then efficiently delivering delicious food. I love this concept and I can imagine how fulfilling it must be to work with colleagues whose similar disabilities are shared and celebrated.
We came across quite a few large scale murals around the town, but the multi-storey car park style of the multi-storey car park seemed to have been singled out for the most attention – I wonder why?
The workings of this bascule bridge baffled me a bit. Two thirds of the way up the blue band is the fulcrum (but no obvious gears or motors), tick. The counter balance is the big lump on the right, tick. The arms and links connect to the left end of the road, tick. But the large hydraulic cylinder that may power it up (and down) is under the road and in-line with the right-hand support and the joint in the road – So how does that work? Answers on a postcard please.
With Leeuwarden firmly on our favourites list, it was time to leave, but where next? Maybe a quiet place in the beautiful south….. it could be Rotterdam or anywhere, Liverpool or Rome. Swiftly moving on, we agreed we’d leave Amsterdam for another time and headed via a lunch stop near Zaandam (Zaansche Schans windmills) to a marina just south of Utrecht.
With less canal traffic, Margo’s camper spot on this marina wasn’t quite as interesting as the Camperplaats at Leeuwarder Jachthaven, but it was a classy place with its ala carte menu in the fine dining restaurant mainly aimed at boating clientele.
The cycle network of junction routes covers most of the Netherlands. Every junction has a number and an information board which contains an overview map. It also indicates the distance to the next junction, making it really easy to navigate by plotting and following the arrows on numbered signs to the next numbered junction.
I read somewhere that Utrecht has been awarded the title of most beautiful canal town in Europe which I find really difficult to understand unless they had inexplicably overlooked Birmingham! The main canals in Utrecht are connected to the Vecht River and the canals sides are lined with high walls with interesting doors leading to old yard cellars that are now being converted into restaurants and cafés.
Bikes are everywhere in Utrecht. maybe because it’s flat but in the Netherlands cycling runs through everyone’s veins, with most starting cycling to school from a very young age. In Dutch cities like Utrecht cycling is the mode of transport and it’s very obvious the city’s infrastructure is geared towards cyclists rather than cars.
Ok here’s a confession we didn’t go to Gouda for the cheese. But we did choose to visit for the SPOED test centre for a free PCR test that was required before returning to the UK. (We had already booked our return ferry crossing from the Hook of Holland, so we were very pleased when very generously the Dutch government announced there would be free test for tourists up until the end of September).
Gouda’s old town hall is a impressive looking gothic building standing alone in lots of space in the centre of a large triangular square. It’s relative isolation dates back to 1438, when a major city fire caused extensive damage to the previous town hall. The city council decided that the new town hall should be free standing and chose the market field, then still a swampy peat bog, as the new location.
We declined the offers at the tourist office to visit the Gouda Cheese Museum or the Gouda Cheese Experience. We also very virtuously passed up the chance to buy tickets for the Syrup Waffle Experience. Instead we went off in search of the test lab and had the free ‘Swab Up the Nose Experience’ instead. Oh joy!
I definitely would have preferred the waffles to the swab so after we’d eaten a very average pizza that evening we sought compensation by way of the self-service waffle dispenser.
After 86 days this was our last day of the trip in the Netherlands before catching the 10pm overnight ferry to Harwich. So what better thing to do than go off in search of more windmills.
Finding a free place for Margo to park, we chose a figure of eight route around the canals to the northeast of the city. This worked out well as we were able to return to the van for lunch and with the bonus of watching the drama of an assortment of police vans, cars and motorbikes arrive too., well we never did find out why!
Considering this was a last minute decision to kill time, cycling along the banks of the canals taking pictures of the mills was a special experience.
Like much of the country this area lies below sea level. If nature was left to run its course, some 26% of the Netherlands would be flooded, and 60% would be under threat from the waters! Back in the day the mills played an important part in flood prevention.
Lake ‘Kralingse Plas’ is surrounded on three sides by what is locally called the Kralingse Bos, the term ‘bos’ (means ‘forest’) which is a little excessive, however it is a beautiful park. A perfect place not far from the city centre to stroll, run or jog and to relax. Bikes aren’t allowed on the network of small path close to the lake but it’s ringed by the pink-tarmac cycle paths. Bottoms up!
We’ll definitely come back to Rotterdam again and perhaps next time we’ll take ride to see the 19 windmills at the Kinderdijk UNESCO World Heritage site.
Keys that jingle in your pocket, words that jangle in your head
Why did summer go so quickly, was it something that you said?
Lovers walking along a shore and leave their footprints in the sand
Like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel
Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel
As the images unwind, like the circles that you find
In the windmills of your mind!
We don’t remember Noel Harrison but he made the original recording of Windmills of your mind.
With only a few hours before the Stena ferry left at 10pm we went of in search of somewhere to eat in Delft. With it starting to rain we were lucky to grab a parking spot very close to Kleine Oostpoortbrug bridge. There was plenty of food choice and we randomly picked an outdoor table at Grandcafé De Sjees, behind the restored 17th-century town hall. The food was fine, but we did feel guilty sitting sheltered under the awning whilst the waiters dodged back and forth in the rain.
Time to head for the ferry where Stena quickly checked our tickets, Covid negative test results and Passenger Locator Form’s. However the Dutch border control proved unexpectedly tricky as we had to prove that we hadn’t been in Schengen zone since the French stamped our passports when we returned home on the 3rd February….!
When we arrived in Harwich, we asked the UK border police if we could have a stamp in our passport, but were told the UK don’t stamp passports! They also said they don’t check dates, “we just take your word for it”…
Well that’s all for awhile. We now have to stay in the UK before we can take another 90 day dose of Schengen zone elixir. Until next time then, thank you for reading and for your comments which are always welcomed. Stay safe and to misquote the famous Irish verse; May the sun shine warm upon your face and the wind be always at your back.
Dave & Lesley & Margo
PS I’ve just remembered another of our favourite road trip tunes – Buck 65’s Wicked and Weird check out the lyrics!