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ManVanNoPlan Visits Maastricht, Gouda & Dordrecht

ManVanNoPlan Visits Maastricht, Gouda & Dordrecht
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Friday 4th of November.
Day 32 – Zeltingen-Rachtig to Maastricht (50.8232023, 5.7001863)

The one in which we have breakfast in Germany, lunch in Belgium, and dinner in The Netherlands!

Today we were leaving Germany and heading for Maastricht, the most southerly city in The Netherlands, and one where we enjoyed a stay a few years ago in our previous van. A week today we will be on the ferry from the Hook of Holland to dear old Blighty, however before that, The Navigator wanted to spend the final week of this trip Christmas shopping in her favourite Dutch shops.

Some parts of the UK have been experiencing heavy rain and flooding this week and some of that rain has found its way to the Moselle Valley and it rained constantly all night and most of the morning.

Luckily it relented for just long enough to service the van and get underway. It is a two-hour drive to Maastricht but we stopped after just twenty minutes to check out the wine selection in a Netto after yesterday’s disappointing expedition to Lidl. They didn’t have a great selection but enough to have us going home with our full duty-free allowance!

Back on the road and a drive through heavy rain which was a pity as the scenery was really beautiful with heavily forested hills resplendent in a selection of Autumn colours. It was dual carriageway all the way with crawler lanes on the many hill inclines. We passed into Belgium seamlessly passing the old border checkpoint buildings which are in a state of disrepair.

Not long after we passed the city of Spa, where the Belgian F1 Grand Prix is held, we pulled into a rest area for lunch then on to Maastricht via a stop at a garage to fill the tank with LPG.

Last night we paid €12 for our Moselle riverside pitch but tonight we are paying €24 as we are on a top notch motorhome aire at a marina within easy cycling distance of Maastricht city centre. Yet again we are the only Brits on a site and in the last five weeks of this trip so far we’ve probably only seen less than ten British registered vans. Maybe they’re all in sunny Spain!

The tourist guide to Maastricht states…
“Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in Holland, as you will quickly discover when strolling through the historic inner city. Churches, city walls, monumental merchant houses, and big squares merge seamlessly with a comprehensive and varied range of shops”.

André Rieu performs his concerts most years in the main square of Maastricht and tickets for the eight nights his orchestra will be performing in July 2023 are on sale already.

Most (older) British people however will know the name of Maastricht as the place in December 1991 where John Major signed the ‘Maastricht Treaty’ which was both a triumph and disaster for Britain’s place in the EU.

Britain emerged having secured exceptions from those bits of the treaty it most opposed. Yet Maastricht represented a turning point in our relationship with European integration and contributed, albeit indirectly, to our decision to leave the EU years later.

After we were settled on the pitch the rain came on again and that put paid to any thoughts of getting the bikes out to head into the city centre.

Saturday 5th of November.
Day 33 – Maastricht.

It’s always good to wake up and not hear rain on the roof of the van as today the aim is to cycle the short distance into the centre of Maastricht.

We’ve stayed in a campsite a few hundred yards from this marina so the cycle into the city will be on a familiar cycle path, well at least those of us who remember doing it only seven years ago!

It all became clear to The Navigator the closer we cycled to the city and especially where we chained up the bikes. There are a few options, bridge wise, to cross over the Meuse and we took a different bridge this time and The Navigator was delighted with this choice. It was a pedestrian bridge with a fair few steps up at either side but the Dutch, geniuses that they are, have installed a glass-enclosed lift on both sides for cyclists to use to avoid all the steps.

Maastricht centrum is both big and compact at the same time, if that makes any sense, and the pedestrianised streets are easy to navigate. As you would expect, this being a Saturday, it was busy with shoppers and sightseers alike. Having been here before we had a good idea of where to go and one of the first places was the market square where the Saturday market was in progress.

We were fortunate to find a food we first saw in Spain, which was what looked like a breaded crab claw but was in effect not wholly crab meat but at least had a little crab pincer to eat it with. At one of the market stalls we saw them again and couldn’t resist having a portion between us as a mid morning snack.

Duly fortified, we continued wandering around this charming city, the nineteenth largest in the Netherlands.

Lunch was another Dutch treat, frites smothered in sate sauce and it gave us the chance to sit inside as it was a bit chilly and threatening to rain at this point in the day.

Duly fortified, again, we continued to walk about and see the sights and admire the many shops as the window displays were now given over to be Christmas themed and they were very impressive. By late afternoon we were ready to call it a day and head back to the bikes but not before The Navigator had her traditional mid-afternoon latte in a Hema department store and we shared a tasty slice of apple cake as well.

Duly fortified, for a third time we headed back to the bikes and crossed the river by the same bridge, using the same lifts. I thought it was a bit of a faff but The Navigator much preferred it to the other bridges where we would have had traffic to contend with.

It took only thirteen minutes to cycle back to Bessie on a traffic free cycle lane which is the great thing about cycling in this country. If we had kept on cycling past the entrance to the marina we would have been back in Belgium in no time as Maastricht is only two miles from the border.

It was now dark, chilly and raining, so, as we were hooked up to inclusive electricity, the heating stayed on all night at a peep which ensured we had a good nights sleep. We watched some YouTube videos and I returned to winning ways when we caught up with Only Connect.

Sunday 6th of November.
Day 34 – Maastricht to Oirschot (51.500346,5.325422)

Today we were heading for Oirschot, (no, I had never heard of it either), a town to the north west of Eindhoven and for no other reason it was in the right direction towards the Hook of Holland and the ferry home on Friday.

In theory we could have driven all the way to Rotterdam today but we wanted to see a few new places before Friday and this town fitted the bill. The drive only took an hour as the roads were pretty quiet but the fun started when we came off the dual carriageway and headed for the site which was on the side of a canal. The Aire is fairly new and even though it’s clearly visible on Google Maps and I had pinned it, which meant the satnav should have taken us straight there, it stubbornly refused to do so.

In the end I drove down some single-track lanes not knowing if they were roads or just cycle paths until we made it to our destination. The site is only a few years old so the facilities are excellent and the owner’s father, who checked us in, was very welcoming. He explained that it was not just us who had difficulty following a satnav to the site and he hoped that one day it could be sorted out.

We had a prime pitch overlooking the canal but any thought of getting the bikes out to explore were dashed when the rain came on and that was us confined to Bessie for the night.

Inexpensive Birthday Gift Ideas…

Titles for the four nations also include, Best Wife, Best Mum, Best Son, Best Dog & Best Cat!

See the full range of titles HERE.

Monday 7th of November.
Day 35 – Oirschot to Geertruidenberg (51.703293,4.864089).

Another day, another new town to us forty minutes closer to our ultimate destination. Before that however, we had a walk along beside the canal to a supermarket to stock up on some groceries. We actually had the choice of three supermarkets side by side, Jumbo, Albert Heijn and Lidl and we chose the latter as we are so accustomed to them, we virtually know where to find everything we need.

After walking back to the van, we serviced it again and I got chatting to our Belgian neighbour and had a long conversation with him about journeys we’ve made and what ones we were planning for next year.

The drive today was only forty minutes and again the satnav played up and deposited us three miles short of the marina we were heading for.
Once I input the coordinates again we found the marina and had lunch before setting off for a walk into the town centre of Geertuidenberg (no, again, I had never heard of it either), which, this being a Monday, resembled a ghost town with every shop, etc closed for the day.

There were many historic buildings going back five hundred years or so, and most had an A4 sheet of paper in a window explaining who had built, then owned the building, and what their professions were, which was quite interesting.

It was chilly and threatening to rain so we made our way back to Bessie via the canal which had some vintage barges moored beside each other.

The warm autumnal days of sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and the odd barbecue are well behind us now and it’s feeling more and wintery every day. We can’t complain as we’ve enjoyed exceptionally good weather over the past six weeks and it’s certainly been a lot better than the UK has been experiencing lately.

Tuesday 8th of November.
Day 36 – Geertruidenberg to Gouda (52.010761,4.717256).

Time to move ever nearer the Hook of Holland and the ferry on Friday. Before that however we have three nights to go and we are returning to two of our favourite Aires in this part of the world, Gouda, and Kinderdijk.

We were up sharpish as we wanted to have lunch and spend the full afternoon in Gouda but at the same time let the rush hour traffic calm down a bit as the route we had to take is on very busy roads around the outskirts of Rotterdam.

The neighbouring town to Geertruidenberg on the other side of the canal is Raamsdonksveer and we headed there first for the very last Lidl shop of this trip. On the list were two crates of very good lager for €7.50 each, tubs of sate sauce, jars of peanut butter, syrup waffles and other Dutch products we have grown to enjoy.

The journey to Gouda should have taken just over half an hour but roadworks added about twenty minutes to that. The Aire in Gouda is right in the centre of this beautiful little city and Google Maps has taken us there a few different ways in the past, but it took us the way we know best this time.

The Klein America Aire is part of a car park with dedicated motorhome bays fairly close together, and if you are lucky you can hook up to electricity. As we arrived just before lunch time we parked and hooked up without a problem. You buy a day ticket for €8 which is valid until 9pm and the overnight parking is free. €8 for a parking spot with electricity and within a few hundred yards walk to the main square is a great bargain.

There was no question of having lunch in the van before heading into Gouda as this is The Navigator’s favourite place to have Kibbeling and I must admit it is a superb lunch with each portion freshly cooked and served with a home made tartar sauce for only €5. The young guy who was serving recognised us as the “people from Scotland” which is why we probably got a bigger portion than usual.

It was quite a chilly day and the Christmas decorations were being strung across the streets and the shops were looking very festive making the atmosphere very different from the warm days of March and May when we were here last.

Every Hema is a different size so The Navigator has to visit every one just to check that she has seen every single item so the Gouda branch was visited for the third time this year! Once all her favourite shops had been visited, it was time to head back to Bessie and relax with the heating on at a peep.

The Aire had filled up, but it still wasn’t full, and again we were the only British van here, which was a real surprise given how popular Gouda is. Our timing had been good as the rain came down not long after we returned to Bessie.

Wednesday 9th of November.
Day 37 – Gouda to Kinderdijk (51.858496,4.676627).

A white van tours round the car park/aire in Gouda periodically with ANPR cameras on the roof checking you have a valid ticket as you enter your vehicle registration when you buy the ticket.

While €8 is an absolute bargain to park in Gouda, I had no intention of buying another one as we were moving back to Kinderdijk for our fourth visit this year.

Kinderdijk is €17 for 24 hours but it’s worth it as it is immaculately kept with properly spaced pitches and a small toilet/shower block. When we arrived Bessie was serviced and parked up as only the fourth van on the site, one of whom was British. A few more vans arrived later but it was a very different visit this time as the rain came on and kept us inside for the rest of the day, not that we could get the bikes out to cycle to the windmills as they are boxed in by cases of wine and crates of lager in the garage!

It was a YouTube/Netflix evening, until at ten o’clock exactly, a massive explosion nearby made us both jump out of our skins. It was definitely an explosion as opposed to the sound of an accident out on the road but there were no sirens coming to investigate, or if it was a firework, it was the only one. Strange.

Thursday 10th of November.

Day 38 – Dordrecht

Our last full day of this trip on foreign soil dawned with clear blue skies, which is just as well, as we were heading to Dordrecht by bus. Everytime we had been on this site previously we had cycled to the world famous Kinderdijk windmills but the nearby city of Dordrecht was meant to be worth a visit so that was today’s plan.

The online guide describes Dordrecht as follows,
“Dordrecht obtained city rights as early as 1220, making it the oldest city in Holland. Located in a wetland area with such rivers as the Merwede, Noord and Ouwe Maas, it was an important merchant city with a lively trade in wood, cereals and wine. That history, wealth and culture is still clearly visible. Not only does the historic city center of Dordrecht harbour around 1,000 monuments – they are also splendidly used as restaurants, museums and theatres.

The bus stops right outside the Kinderdijk site and The Navigator was ready to get rid of her collection of euro coins to pay for the tickets, but with no luck, as you can only pay by credit card!

Dordrecht’s rich history is still clearly visible when you walk past the old inner city harbours, monuments and museums of Dordrecht. Absolute must-sees are the Great Church (Grote Kerk), the renowned collection of paintings of the Dordrechts Museum, the gorgeous interior of the old mayor’s house ‘Huis van Gijn’ and the thirteenth-century Augustine monastery ‘Het Hof’. Also highly recommended is the gorgeous view of the rivers’ intersection from the Groothoofd”.

Once in the city centre we wandered about taking in the ancient buildings as well as modern ones, housing the likes of Primark, where I helped unburden The Navigator’s purse by €3.50 in coins as I treated myself to a new t-shirt.

We made our way towards the historic harbour, now home to modern motor yachts and well restored Dutch barges and tugs like the immaculate Pieter Boele which sports a folding funnel to get under low bridges. We just caught the end of a photo-shoot with four glamorous models at the riverside but as I had my own model with me, it was no great loss!

The Grote Kerk was impressive but it was given a body swerve in favour of lunch as we were both starving! The Navigator judges how ‘expensive’ our lunch is by the measure of whether knives and forks are involved. If these implements are used, it is deemed a proper lunch as opposed to a snack. We settled on a Chinese, which we both enjoy, and indoor seating was also going to be a bonus on this chilly day.

It was a delicious meal, and although the Chinese waitress did not command a word of English, and the menu was only in Dutch, we ordered by looking at a gallery of pictures on the wall.

We started the day by having to pay the bus fare by credit card and now when I produced my credit card to pay for the meal my new Chinese bestie uttered what I think was a string of Chinese expletives and configured the credit card terminal to refuse to accept the card. With a smile on her face she suddenly found she knew two words of English, “cash only!”.

We continued our meandering and I relieved The Navigator’s purse of €1.30 for a Whippy cone, or soft ice as it’s known in these parts with another €0.30 to add the crunchiest sprinkles I think I’ve ever had. It may have been an unconventional ‘pudding’ but it was delicious.

By mid-afternoon it was time to head for the bus back to the site and reflect on yet another new place to have visited and add it to the list of memorable cities on this tour like Antwerp, Reims, Troyes, Colmar, Strasbourg, Heidelberg, Trier, Maastricht, Gouda and now Dordrecht. They were all different in architecture and character and we enjoyed every one, along with all the memorable villages of Alsace and the Moselle valley.

While we enjoyed the months we spent at El Campello in the past, we would never spend so much time in one place ever again, as long as we have a motorhome that is so well equipped for touring. Tomorrow we will be heading for the ferry having enjoyed six weeks touring to new destinations and enjoying pretty good weather, certainly far better than back home!

Friday 11th of November.
Day 39 – Kinderdijk to Castle Donington

We had prepped the van last night ready for our departure this morning so it was ready for a sharpish departure after breakfast. We like this site and would readily recommend it as a first or last stopover if you are sailing into or out from the Hook of Holland, just over half an hour away.

Bessie was serviced before we set off as we would probably be wild camping for one or two nights on the drive home from Harwich. The ferry was due to sail at 2.15 pm so we had plenty of time to get there but the obstacle of Rotterdam stood in our way with a road network that has to be seen to be believed. I say that in a positive way, as it is a huge city for starters and the biggest port in Europe in addition, so the traffic is bound to be hectic at the best of times.

Some of the interchanges make Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction look like a toy town but they are so well-signposted that progress was smooth and uneventful. As well as making sure we made it to the Hook of Holland without any issues, we wanted to check out the beach there.

When we sailed out of Hook of Holland in late May we saw a beach area on the starboard side and there was allegedly two areas where it is possible to wild camp, either before or after a crossing so for future reference we wanted to check them out.

And sure enough, there were two areas where vans were parked up but we didn’t stop to read any signs about the legality of overnight parking. For reference I have circled them on the following map.

We walked onto the beach and were surprised to see how good the facilities were and how clean and soft the sand was.. The train line that brings passengers to the ferry runs on a few hundred yards and stops just short of the beach so day trippers from Rotterdam and the Hague could come here, especially in the summer, although there was a huge car park as well.

A few of the bars and restaurants were open with plenty of outside space to relax and have a meal or a drink, but it was too chilly to entertain those notions. Instead, as we had an hour or so to kill before heading for the check-in so we found a snack bar and made do with our last frites with sate sauce as they did not have kibbeling on the menu.

Suitably refreshed, we headed to check in for our crossing and hardly had to queue so found ourselves onboard an hour before the ship was due to depart. This gave us time to find the same seats we had coming out and settled in for the long, and thankfully, smooth crossing.

There were four busses parked near us on the ship but they must have been empty of passengers as there were very few people on board making it a very pleasant experience again and we cannot praise Stena too highly on this crossing. Cairnryan to Belfast is another story though as how that two hour crossing is over £ 300 for us and our car, where this six hour plus crossing, with an 8.1 meter motorhome is only £ 129 defies belief!

We had a good, and surprisingly inexpensive dinner on board so that we could drive straight to Castle Donington without stopping after docking. Thankfully we weren’t searched before sailing or at Harwich so the whole process was incredible smooth.

It was getting dark as we docked and the drive to the East Midlands was easy enough, apart from a road closure on the A14 dual-carriageway which meant driving through the centre of Newmarket which added to the journey time as we were crawling nose-to-tail for miles.

Unusually for a Friday night our industrial estate of choice in Castle Donington was full of lorries packed up for the night so for the first time ever we could not park at our usual spot, but managed to find an alternative spot a few hundred yards away and quickly settled down for the night.

Saturday 12th of November.
Day 40 – Castle Donington to Ardrishaig

There are many benefits to using industrial estates for an overnight stopover, but one of the negatives is the early start that our neighbouring lorry drivers make, and it’s made worse if they have a refrigerated unit on the back, as it makes even more noise.

That said, this was not a morning for sleeping in as we had a seven hour, 371 mile journey ahead of us, so the early rise was welcome on this occasion.

We headed across the A50 to Stoke and then northwards on the M6 for what was an uneventful drive home. Although we had the contents of French, German and Dutch supermarkets in Bessie, we had to briefly stop for a few basics like milk and bread, etc before arriving home just after 4pm.

In the last two weeks of this trip most of the towns and cities we visited were gearing up for Christmas and most had Christmas markets under construction and it would have been magical experience to see all of that come to life but we have Christmas to look forward to with our family in a few weeks time.

This trip was memorable in so many ways, from the ancient villages, towns, and cities, to the breath-taking scenery and colours of Autumn, not forgetting the great food and wine we had along the way. We hope you have enjoyed this series of blog posts and if you have a motorhome or campervan that we have inspired you to follow in our tyre tracks, and if you have never considered touring Alsace before, you should definitely put it on your bucket list.

We (I) drove 2,500 miles on this trip, but our main trip next year will far exceed that as we are beginning to plan an epic adventure for next summer, and look forward to taking you along with us. Christmas and New Year will be past by the time you read this, so The Navigator and I will wish you a Happy New Year and thanks again for taking the time to read these blog posts.

The above map shows the approximate route we took on this 2022 Autumn Road Trip…

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We will be pottering about the UK in the early part of the year and then heading off on an ‘epic’ journey in late spring / early summer where we hope to add three new countries to those visited by Bessie up to now! 

Stay tuned, and if you are not already SUBSCRIBED sign up to be notified of the new blogs when they go online. 

PS – The Fyne Editions website has had a makeover and tons of new titles have been added in the past few weeks so check it out HERE and find lots of inexpensive journals, diaries, notebooks and wordsearch puzzle books….

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