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ManVanNoPlan Visits Haarlem, Kinderdijk & Gouda then home…

ManVanNoPlan Visits Haarlem, Kinderdijk & Gouda before heading home in the tenth and final blog of our 2022 Spring tour of Europe.

BONUS CONTENT – The view from the passenger seat…
As well as describing our last week in the Netherlands and our journey home, at the end of this blog you can read The Navigator’s thoughts on this trip.

Day 81 – Friday the 20th of May
Today we were heading back to Camper Park 205 for the third time on this trip, but not before finding a Lidl to stock up on a few Dutch treats including another case of bottled lager for the long hot summer ahead…

It took two goes to find a Lidl I could get parked at but in the end it was one we had been to before between Haarlem and the N205 Aire. When we arrived at the Aire it looked almost full as we approached it, but we serviced the van and saw there was a space on the first row so parked up for the next few days.

The first time we were here in March was to pick up Emma and then the second time was to drop Emma back off at Schipol and that didn’t leave us any time to visit nearby Haarlem which I remember visiting before, but The Navigator is not convinced we have. Time will tell tomorrow.

Day 82 – Saturday the 21st of May 2022
This time next week we will be on our way to catch the ferry back to Blighty but there are a few places to visit before then and the first on the list is Haarlem which is a city to the west of Amsterdam and about half an hour on the bikes from the Aire we are on.

Haarlem was once a major North Sea trading port surrounded by a defensive wall and it still retains its medieval character of cobblestone streets and gabled houses. I said I remember we visited it thirty odd years ago but The Navigator doesn’t so it was going to be interesting to see if her memory returns once we were there (it didn’t!).

If you have followed this series of blogs you will have gathered by now that we like to visit the central church or cathedral of the places we visit and the impressive Grote of St. Bavo will probably be the last one we see before we leave the Netherlands.

It has to be said that The Navigator rated it very highly which is a glowing recommendation in its own right and I was amazed at the size and scale of the building which was constructed between 1370 and 1538. The highlight for me was the thirty metre high organ which dominates one end of the building.

In 1766 the ten year old Mozart played this very organ as did Händel.

On a Saturday a lively market surrounds the church and we enjoyed tasting some of the varied selection of foodstuffs on offer including steak pies of all things. The stalls that always command attention however are the colourful flower stalls which are always busy and no wonder with bargains like 50 tulips for  5.

Haarlem is a lively bustling city and we walked about for ages before having a refreshing lager sitting on the banks of the Spaarne river / canal watching people cruising on the water enjoying the warm weather, including what looked like a wedding party.

Even though the roads were busy it is easy to cycle about towns and cities here as there are dedicated cycle lanes everywhere and at road junctions you have your very own cycle traffic lights. Google Maps guided us back a different way and probably a better way at that so it was an enjoyable cycle back.

It was a glorious afternoon and we sat out in the sunshine before packing the bikes and chairs away as we are moving on again tomorrow.

Day 83 – Sunday the 22nd of May 2022
There was no real hurry to leave Camper Park 205 today as we were moving on to an Aire just over an hour away near Kinderdijk, the UNESCO World Heritage site of preserved windmills.

N205 Motorhome Aire GPS = 52.344255, 4.683296 & What3Words = ///adjust.faced.request

Although we were skirting the massive industrial city of Rotterdam and the maze of motorways around it, the journey was straightforward and we arrived just after one o’clock and the BBQ was fired up within ten minutes of that which is the benefit of having a gas barbecue.

It was a scorcher so the afternoon was spent sitting out and later I went inside to finish off the last blog and listen to the final Premier League games on 5live before the BBQ was pressed into service again. We ate outside and then enjoyed the warmth of the evening until 8.30pm, our latest sit out yet.

The fairly new Aire we are on is about 4km from Kinderdijk and is in immaculate condition. I found it on the Park4Night App and strangely it had loads of negative reviews, not for the site itself but for the surly manager but we had no issues with him at all. Whatever his shortfalls he cannot be faulted for the condition of the Aire and it is one of the best we have been on.

Day 84 – Monday the 23rd of May 2022
The Navigator is an avid weather forecast watcher and I have been reliably informed it will rain at 2pm today. It was as warm yesterday as we’ve experienced over the last three months but today it’s only warmish and the sky is grey instead of the blue we’ve been used to recently.

The reason we are on this Aire is to visit the world famous Kinderdijk collection of nineteen windmills dating from around 1740, and all still in working condition. The windmills were built not to grind flour but to pump water from the nearby low-lying fields, a task that is automated today by pumps.

Wherever you cycle in the Netherlands you come across ducks and geese everywhere and today was no exception. 

It only takes less than fifteen minutes to cycle to the first of the windmills and as we are approaching them from the furthest away point from the official entrance it was quiet with no-one else about. This next picture is about as Dutch as it gets – cycling and windmills.

As you get nearer the visitor centre you encounter bus loads of tourists walking behind guides but as it was a cloudy Monday morning it wasn’t that busy.

We had a coffee / tea in the cafe and the lady there is to be congratulated for having English Breakfast tea and providing cold milk without being asked. From Kinderdijk we cycled on to the nearby town of Alblasserdam where we found a little market in full swing near to a Lidl and other shops.

We had lunch and tidied up the garage and stowed the bikes and chairs away as it was approaching 2pm by this time and lo and behold it did start to rain just as The Navigator had predicted. It belted down all afternoon but at least we had seen the windmills before it came on.

Kinderdijk Aire GPS = 51.858430, 4.676406 & What3Words = ///moved.milkman.either

Day 85 – Tuesday the 24th of May 2022
Today we are returning to Gouda as we enjoyed it so much the last time we were here in early March, plus it is one of the cheapest Aires we have been on in this entire trip, € 8 including electricity. We had no real plans for today and as it was showery we would not be trekking around Gouda until tomorrow so a lazy day was on the cards.

Google Maps is a fantastic free navigation system and we have used it every day on this trip but it can be frustrating as well and today was one such day as it decided to bring us into Gouda and to the Aire a completely different way from the last time we were here. When that happens you are never quite sure if the new route is suitable for an 8.1m van but in the end we made it to the Aire with no issues.

There are only a limited number of electricity sockets and we were lucky enough to get close enough to one and hook up. After lunch The Navigator read and I worked as it rained on and off all afternoon. In the evening the rain gave way to a lovely evening and we headed the short distance into Gouda to stretch our legs and on the way we met Bev and J.P. the couple we met at Camper Park 205 who were finishing off their holiday here before heading to the Hook of Holland tomorrow to return home.

The centre of Gouda was bathed in the last remnants of a sunset and the bars and restaurants surrounding the main square were doing good business but the square was deserted although the next time we see it it will be bustling as it’s market day tomorrow.

Day 86 – Wednesday the 25th of May 2022
The aim today was to visit the market in the centre of Gouda and have our last kibbeling for lunch.

The site was full last night and we thought it was because people were coming to see the market but the following picture shows why that theory doesn’t hold water. There was no market! If only there was a blog of someone visiting here two months ago to tell us the market was on a Thursday…

Hey ho as they say! We still enjoyed our walk around Gouda and we went back to the same place to get our kibbeling which was as delicious as we remembered from our first visit. In fact The Navigator has voted it the best kibbeling of our entire tour which is a worthy accolade considering how much fish she has eaten in the past three months. It was a bargain as well at only € 5.

Gouda is probably the Navigator’s favourite city and this next picture goes a long way to explaining her decision. Flying Tiger, Monkfish, the kibbeling shop and the red building is Hema – all within a few yards of each other…

At lunchtime other fishy delights are available as well as kibbeling as you can see from the pictures and as I took the picture I mentioned to the young guy behind the counter that you would not see a selection like this in Scotland and when I told him that as well as fish ‘suppers’ you could also get deep fried pizza and deep fried Mars bars he thought I was winding him up.

Although it was bright enough as we left the main square for the last time to walk back to the van, within half an hour it was pouring.

It rained on and off and the wind got up again but we were sandwiched between two other vans so didn’t affect us too much. Bev and J.P. had left this morning for the ferry from the Hook of Holland so hopefully their crossing wasn’t too rough.

Day 87 – Thursday the 26th of May 2022
The site had a fair few arrivals last night and they were parked on the car park which was busy with cars as well as guess what? It was market day. Who knew!

As we were leaving Gouda we filled up with diesel at a Shell garage for € 1.89 ( £ 1.61) the cheapest yet. I also filled up the LPG tanks and surprisingly we had only used less than € 9 of gas since it was last filled at the German / Danish border 19 days ago. If only we had filled up with LPG before going into Denmark…

It is a Dutch ‘bank holiday’ today for Ascension Day so we headed for the Aire before it filled up, which it did before lunchtime.

In the UK we are conditioned to only turn up at a new campsite after one o’clock as the two big camping organisations close the reception as they clean the toilets for a couple of hours or so which means the toilets are closed for this period too. In our experience in the last three months the opposite tends to be the rule on the continent as you want to get on the Aire / campsite BEFORE lunchtime to make sure you get a place. This is possible as you mostly check in on a terminal which issues you a ticket giving you 24 hours, or more as desired, and to me this is a great system as all the machines have the option to be read in English.

Day 88 – Friday the 27th of May 2022
Not a lot to report today. Everything is packed away ready for the drive to the Hook of Holland tomorrow so we had a longish walk into the town of Alblasserdam and it was surprisingly pretty. I say surprisingly as it is on the outskirts of industrial Rotterdam but the houses and shops were well maintained and some were backing on to a canal and had entertaining areas for relaxing and BBQs.

We found a new to us Dutch supermarket called Dirk where we topped up on supplies for the journey home. The windmills were too far to walk (for us) and the bikes were securely stowed away anyway so we had a lazy afternoon and I typed this blog up to date. 

Day 89 – Saturday the 28th of May of May 2022
I had a text from Stena a few days ago to say that the route I (Google Maps) had planned to take to the Hook of Holland would be closed for repairs so we left the Aire sharpish this morning just in case we might get lost or held up by the diversion.

Those of you of more mature years may have forgotten the big event that happened on this day, the 28th of May 1975. Back in 1975 the 28th was a Wednesday and it was the final of the European Cup between Leeds United and Bayern Munich which the Germans won 2 – 0. The 28th of May this year is a Saturday but was also the final of the Champions League between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The events of the 28th of May is a fantastic way for me to remember our wedding anniversary as we were married on that Wednesday afternoon forty seven years ago – which always reminds me of the old old joke about the Great Train Robbers not getting as long a sentence as that!

So, to commemorate this landmark occasion, I have booked us on a North Sea cruise. How romantic is that dear reader?

Okay, so it might be on a Stena Ferry and only last six and a half hours (long enough on the North Sea), but the thought is there and as long as we get to Blighty in time for the kick off, all will be well, just as it was forty seven years ago!

I should have known that the Dutch diversion would be well organised and cause no problems and we arrived early for the 2.15pm  departure. 

Thankfully the crossing was calm and the ship (Stena Britannica) was massive and is allegedly is one of the two biggest Superferries in the world and that size probably contributed to the feeling of space and comfort. We had a meal just after 6pm so that we would not have to stop when we docked just after 8pm and the food was good and reasonably priced. This was the first time we had used the Harwich / Hook of Holland crossing and I would definitely use it again, especially if we were touring the Netherlands, Germany or Scandinavia. The other reason I would consider it again was the cost as it was £ 80 cheaper on the same day / time as the Tunnel at Calais.

The drive to Castle Donington was straight forward enough with a pit stop to watch the end of the game. We have stayed in this industrial estate many times down the years and on this Saturday night it was really quiet so we had a great night’s sleep.

Castle Donington stopover GPS = 52.853443, -1.342441 & What3Words = ///ankle.entertainer.performed

Day 90 – Sunday the 29th of May of May 2022
We set off just after nine o’clock and made good time but when we stopped for lunch I need 40 winks as I felt tired and the 40 winks turned into an hour!

Suitably refreshed we set off with no firm idea where we would stay the night, but having driven this route loads of times, I had quite a few places in mind. As it happened they were not needed as, apart from our usual pit stop at Asda Carlisle for diesel (£ 1.77 v £ 1.49 in February) the roads were reasonably quiet and I was feeling fresh enough to keep driving until we pulled in at Dumbarton for a Lidl ‘big shop’ and we were home just after seven o’clock. 

This earlier than expected arrival home obviously caught the neighbours unaware as there were no flags or bunting to welcome us home from our epic five country European adventure!

We covered 3,642 miles door to door but it never felt like a slog and in fact the longest drives were in the UK, not in Europe. We loved every minute of the three months and would easily repeat the route and all of the places we visited.

Thanks for following this adventure and hopefully we will be back on the road before too much longer and as you can see from the following map of our overnight stopovers there is still a lot of northern Europe without a blue pin in it…

BONUS CONTENT – The view from the passenger seat…

For the man with a van, but no plan, he definitely did have a plan for this trip apart from two things that didn’t quite work out, but more about that later.

For the last few years we’ve gone to the same campsite in Spain and although we loved it, and met some lovely people, we felt we had exhausted that area for now so decided that a touring holiday was called for this trip, as that’s what the motorhome is meant to do – tour.

We set off in mid February to go to the Caravan & Motorhome Show at the NEC en-route to the 3 month European jaunt and this is the first plan that went awry.

The UK was gripped by storms and strong winds and we got as far as Carlisle and as the van was being battered about on the motorway we had to take refuge in Carlisle, meaning no NEC. It turned out after meeting various people on our trip who had managed to attend that it wasn’t very good, so nothing lost there.

We made our way to Dover with stops for various reasons and boarded a ferry on the 2nd of March and turned left at Calais for a change. I was unaware of the route or the stops ahead but knew where we were aiming for Denmark and trusted The Driver to have it all worked out.

After one stop in France, we carried on through Belgium stopping at places we knew, but wanted to revisit. The highlight of Belgium was the train journey to Brussels from Blankenberge as we hadn’t been to the Belgian capital before.

From Belgium it was on to the Netherlands and one of our early stops Middleharnis was one of the nicest places on the whole trip, although there have been several and it’s almost impossible to choose a favourite.

Middelharnis

We carried on to to be near Schipol airport to meet Emma who joined us for a week. We visited Amsterdam and Katwijk where she had been before as a child and it was good to revisit again as she was too young to remember.

We then made our way through Germany and into Denmark where the second spanner in the works or to be more precise the lack of gas in the tanks happened. Unbeknown to us LPG is rarer than hen’s teeth in Denmark but when we ran out I managed with the microwave, eating out and being inventive with one electric ring on the hob.

After Denmark back into Germany, Holland and ferry home from Hook of Holland to Harwich.

There were several thing that made this trip so memorable…

1. THE WEATHER.
Apart from the initial storms in the UK, once we got into France we had good weather in March. Cold, but sunny, and no rain until we arrived in Amsterdam where we had rain, snow, strong winds and it was freezing cold. This was such a shame as it was Emma’s week to be with us but at least she had a few nice days at Katwijk. High winds again made us stay put in the site after we took Emma back to the airport and also at Den Helder. As the Netherlands is so flat there was no escaping the strong winds and driving the van was to my mind a bit risky. Not so to The Driver, but for for an easy life he agreed to stay at Den Helder until it abated. From then on through Germany, and all the time we were in Denmark, we had glorious weather until the 10th of May when it rained in Germany. We’ve had a few rainy days since then, but on the whole though, for the entire three months we can’t complain.

2. BEAUTIFUL PLACES TO VISIT.
We’ve been to France, Belgium and the Netherlands before so we knew what to expect although we did go to some new places, especially in the Netherlands. Northern Germany was new to us and it was interesting and lovely but Denmark was a very pleasant experience. I didn’t really have any preconceived ideas what it would be like, but thinking Scandinavian and it would be all modern and sleek. In reality it was totally the opposite with some very lovely quaint towns, cobbled streets, small thatched houses, first class beaches and harbours where we mostly stayed. We didn’t visit anywhere that I didn’t like and it’s very hard to choose a favourite place in Denmark. 

Overall, the Netherlands pips Denmark and only because Denmark is far more expensive, but there’s not much in it. As you would have read above, my favourite town is Gouda and favourite new place which came a close second was Middelharnis, although Bremen and Schleswig were up there too.

3 THE PEOPLE.
Everyone apart from the Germans spoke very good English so it was easy to communicate although we did meet a few Germans who spoke a little and were very pleasant. We met very few other British motor-homers but those we did were exceptionally nice and we had some good conversations about where to visit and which sites were good. In Denmark we were an oddity and not many motorhomes from Scotland seem to travel there and fellow campers were eager to talk to us as they don’t get a lot of chances to speak English and were fascinated that we had driven such a long way from Scotland, which seemed to be on everyone’s bucket list.

4 THE FOOD.
As mentioned in the blog, fish is my favourite meal and it was in abundance most places we went and of a high quality, even from the take away places. However in Germany I did partake of their ‘wurst’ – sausage which was okay but overall I much prefer fish.

5 THE DRIVER.
Without Angus’s willingness to drive the van on the ‘wrong’ side of the road over such a long distance I would not have been to any of these places. Hats off to his planning, finding great places to park, not getting lost and his patience when out cycling with me in busy cities and towns that tend to make me a bit anxious.
Thank you for a wonderful trip.

COMING SOON ON THE NEXT BLOG...

We have three months at home before we are allowed back on the continent so no doubt we will manage a few trips in the UK over the summer months so look out for the next e mail…

PS – The Man Van No Plan website has had a makeover in the past few days so check it out 
HERE

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