The Netherlands 2019
Doreen proposed a trip to the Netherlands to take in some of the parts we had never been to. I should explain that we often visit Amsterdam where Frank's daughter lives and in recent years had also blitzed our way across the country when going to, or coming from, the Baltic. On some of our Amsterdam trips we had explored the wider area around Amsterdam as well as transiting from Hoek van Holland to Amsterdam. For the first time in Europe we now had a dog (Juno, with an Irish EU pet passport) and the delay to Brexit meant that there would not be extra complications for this visit. As usual we had the NKC Camper Contact app to guide us to cheap overnight parking and ACSI card and books for campsites. We noted though that there was a peak period at the end of May/beginning of June which turned out to be the religious holidays of Ascension and Pentecost (Pinksterdag). We didn't do much planning but had decided that we would concentrate on three areas: the islands below Rotterdam, the islands on the Wadden sea and the Maastricht/Limburg area in the far south.
Arriving at Calais on the shuttle in mid May, another first, we headed into Belgium, bypassed Oostend and Brugge and crossed the border into The Netherlands at the village of Retranchment. We found a little campsite at Nieuwvliet in Zeeland, staying two nights and spending a day in the nice seaside town of Breskens. It was there that we realised that we had scored an own goal bringing just one bike. Our reasoning had been that we wouldn't be able to leave Juno alone for long enough to make a worthwhile bike trip for the two of us. At Breskens it seemed that every other dog and bike owner had a dog trailer, we could even have hired one there. We didn't know it at the time but Breskens had played a role in the allied defeat at Arnhem but more of that later.
Day three saw us crossing by toll tunnel to the first of the islands that make up the delta of the Waal, Maas and Schelde. A note perhaps about the names of the rivers. The Rhine, or rather most of it, becomes the Waal as it leaves Germany. The Maas is called the Meuse in Belgium and France.
We stopped for fuel, but the automatic payment system wouldn't recognise our cards. So on to the next two islands via the impressive Delta sluices and found a fuel station that accepted our card, it was the cheapest that we saw that day at €1.36. Then arriving at our chosen site we found it didn't allow dogs. Having worked for Alan Rogers where the book would just have said 'No Dogs’ we find the ACSI book difficult with all the information categories and letters. Plan B was a site on the previous island so we went back 15km to stay two nights at a waterside camp ‘RCN de Schotsman’. This site suited us but it was a bit jaded. They did give us a doggy welcome pack with a ball and some chews and an all important poo bag.
Delta Sluices Welcome Pack
On day four we spent half a very sunny day at the village of Veere on the other side of the water from the campsite. Later that day we drove to a Lidl in Middelburg. We got there in one piece but it was in the middle of a residential area and had no dedicated car park.
Night five was spent in the yacht harbour at Tholen. We would have spent longer there but they had no cassette emptying. It is a pretty little harbour and town. We drove next to a yacht harbour at Steenbergen. There is a 'dam busters' memorial and walk there apparently, as it’s where Guy Gibson of dam busters fame died in a Mosquito plane crash. There was no one at the harbour office to direct us but the chemical toilet emptying point was unlocked so sneakily we made our deposit and then left for Breda. We think that Zeeland and the delta is a lovely area worth exploring further and, as is usual with our trips, we didn’t see another British camper.
Breda has a €4 camper park place and we spent a night there. Breda has enough attractions for a longer stay incuding parkland and a Begijnhof which is a collection of almshouses where devout catholic women have their homes It has been going since 1267 and is a very tranquil place.
In the next photo Juno has spotted some lads kicking a ball around in the park. Also shown is the overnight parking place.
Breda is only 10km from the Belgian border so we felt compelled to move on. We visited the castle at Loevestein, didn't go in as we balked at the €30 admission. The castle is by the side of the Waal where the Maas canal joins. There is almost constant river traffic, we saw boats loaded with coal, typical Rhine riverboats and many other types of vessel including a car transporter. We could have stayed in the free car park overnight but decided to move closer to the A2 to another free car park at Zaltbommel.
It’s a nice town but going there was a mistake. As the evening wore on more and more rowdy youths arrived. We left at 8.30pm when they started throwing fire crackers. There was another site close by but when we got there saw notices about not staying overnight. Now it was getting dark, we went further north, by now quite close to Utrecht, and found a free site with 4 pitches at Vianen. There were already 6 parked up but I thought one more isn't going to matter and found an unoccupied corner.
Zaltbommel Town - Vianen camper parking
From there we had a choice next morning either the A2 and the Amsterdam ring road or the A27 and the longer route on the N307 by Lelystad and across the Markermeer. We decided on the latter, following our wish to avoid the familiar territory of the various routes around Amsterdam, although we have crossed the Markerwaardijk in each direction before. We paused for coffee at the car park in the middle of the Markermeer. This area was formerly part of the Zuiderzee and until 1932 an inlet off the Waddenzee with more or less open access to the North Sea.
We arrived at Den Helder in the early afternoon. The parking for motor homes here is in the former Naval base, there are full facilities and the cost including tourist tax is a reasonable €13 There is also a charge for electricity consumed but we didn't connect up relying on our solar system. We walked into town, our few immediate needs easily satisfied in the nearest supermarket and on our return walked around the marine dockyard noting the various museums and large exhibits such as the Texel lightship which was very similar to the ones of Trinity House.
A Note on Tourist tax: This is set by the local authorities and varies from place to place but allow for it being up to 2€ per person per night.
The ferry to Texel is a few hundred metres from the park place. There is no pre-booking for the hourly service and we considered ourself lucky to get on for the twenty minute crossing. From the port we headed a few km north to a Lidl at De Koog. Then going south again to our planned ACSI campsite where we had intended to stay for three nights we found it was full. It did look crowded. A swift google revealed a small campsite nearer to the main town of Den Burg. We saw the caravans as we approached and we drove in. By accident we had arrived at the wrong campsite but it looked ok and the English speaking lady in charge was very friendly. In a small shed there were two tiny sheep with a lamb each, the size of newborns. Doreen was hooked. All the facilities were immaculate and we found it perfect. We ended staying five days. The camp site we had googled was exactly opposite the entrance on the other side of the road but didn’t look as nice.
From the site we were able to cycle or walk to Den Burg and we also drove to all the main places on Texel. Our host explained that Texel was pronounced Teshel. When she saw how much Doreen loved the lambs she told us about a place you could hug sheep, this caused ribald comment when I mentioned it on a motorhome forum. Actually it was called lammetjee knuffelen (lamb cuddling) and we spent half a day there. Doreen cuddling everything from chicks to lambs. There were sheep of all shapes and sizes, many from UK as well as the famous Texel. We especially liked the Border Leicester with their hare like ears. Highlight was a sheepdog demonstration using Australian Kelpies moving a mixed flock around with ease.
The next day we noticed Juno had an infection in one eye so we went to the Vet in Den Burg. After a thorough investigation under local anaesthetic the vet ruled out foreign bodies, rips or tears and gave us antibiotic eye cream and instructed us that there were to be no sandy beaches or looking into the wind. Hmm like that’s going to happen! Especially as by now Juno was fixated on, and staring at, the two little boys on the next pitch with their footballs and at the braver of the farm cats.
On one day we visited two parking places, a port and a lighthouse, where we had to use our debit cards for the small fee. Only later did we think that each one would result in a foreign transaction fee almost equal to the parking charge! On return found that my banks transaction charge is proportionate and was 6p and 10p. On the subject of money we had made a budget for each day putting all the euro required in our 'safe' but were finding it hard to keep to it. Little things like the tourist tax which seems a random amount and finding after 5 days on Texel there was a 10€ charge for Juno which hadn't been mentioned. It helped that we didn't need cash for fuel, we also eaked out our cash by sometimes paying for our groceries with the card. Luckily the vet(s) took plastic as well.
It had been a windy week on Texel. Juno's eye was on the mend and after our early morning crossing to the mainland stayed for another day at the former Naval base. I bought a joint ticket for the Marine and the Lifeboat museums and spent the rest of the day indulging in marine matters. Came away with the impression that the Dutch navy hadn't had much success since the sacking and capturing of some of the English fleet at Chatham in 1667. Doreen and Juno went shopping. Incidently dogs are allowed in most shops including food ones.
Two islands north and east from Texel is the island of Terschelling. I had a book with me called 'Terschelling Sands' which is the story of a British couple, two young sons and a female friend who, in a yacht heading for Danish waters, went aground there and had some ill-advised adventures. We had planned to visit. Then I considered getting to the town of Harlingen and for me to go on the two hour crossing to Terschelling while Doreen reacquainted herself with Harlingen. Then re-reading the part of the book concerning the grounding I realised that it occurred on the opposite side of the island to the ferry's route and so wouldn't be that interesting to me. Although other alternatives to the early start from Den Helder, then four hours on the ferry (high speed ferry, ferry plus hire bike package) were considered, in the end I decided not to go.
We still made an early start towards Harlingen and breakfasted at the monument on the Afsluitsdijk. This 29km dijk was completed in 1932 and resulted in the IJsselmeer, a lake, from what was originally the Zuiderzee an inlet off the North and Wadden seas. At the monument there was information about its construction and the civil engineer, Lely, who proposed the project and who as a government minister saw it through.
Harlingen is a pretty port, we came here briefly on our return from our Scandinavian holiday in 2017. We made for a parking place near the fishing harbour and ferry terminal by the side of a set of lock gates and a lifting bridge where for 10€ motorhome can park overnight. Electricity is available, charged by the kWhr, if you want it, and there is fresh water plus toilet and waste emptying. Our guide said there were 14 marked pitches (we only saw ten and those pitch markings were freshly painted) and that the limit was enforced! Well by the following morning 27 motorhomes were parked. It is only a ten minute walk into the town centre from there and we spent the day wandering around had coffee and lunch and gave Juno some running exercise on a long lead.
Before heading south we wanted to look some more at the Wadden sea so made our way by minor roads to the ferry port of Holwerd. There is a huge car park there where visitors to the island of Ameland leave their cars before taking a holiday. It was very windy and we watched a ferry battle it’s way in and then leave. There were people in shorts but Doreen didn't even leave our van. Juno and I braved it for a few minutes before jumping back in. We then headed towards the south of the country. Our eventual destination being the Maastricht area but that would be a week away. Today was Thursday our half way point.
On our other trip back from the Baltic (2016) we had stayed overnight at the marina in Hattem but phoning ahead found they were full. (Ascension) so we stopped at the yacht harbour at Meppel instead. The camp, although called a parking place in our Camper Contact App, had showers, toilet emptying, waste water drains, free electric, in fact all the facilities of a campsite. It was a short walk into town which was mostly closed. Lidl was open and several cafes and bars as well. Meppel with its little canals was very pretty.
Leaving Meppel we headed towards Arnhem and Nijmegen and booked into a campsite on a goat farm half way between them. As we came south I had hurriedly down-loaded the book "A Bridge Too Far" onto my Kindle and started reading. Of course we had seen the film and I had a fair idea of the salient points of Operation Market Garden. On the next day we drove to Arnhem crossed the Lower Rhine and parked under the north end of the bridge. This is not the original bridge but was erected a few years after the war to the same design. It is named John Frostbrug in honour of the officer commanding those who got to the bridge and defended it for so long against overwhelming forces.
We then drove to the former Hartenstein hotel which figured largely in the action and is now an Airborne museum. Unfortunately the parking is by a nearby restaurant and was full, alternatively nearby an on road parking was only for coaches so we convinced ourselves that it wouldn’t have been any good anyway and instead went to the outdoor museum of Dutch life. Having noted the €7 parking fee there we went to pay and found they wanted to charge us €46! This with only two hours left until closing. We declined and got the parking refunded. Back to the goat farm to view the goats only by now we had discovered the goats were kept indoors.
The goats seemed to know what to do, walking into the stalls which were slowly rotating whereupon they were connected up to the milking machines and where they had access to a feeding trough. They also seemed to know when to get off!
A further blow was that I had run out of dataon my iPad. I put this down as a bad day, but it did serve to illustrate Market Garden for us. We noticed someone on a pitch across from us had a cylindrical table top BBQ, charcoal with a fan, I noticed it but didn’t investigate further.
We mentioned Breskens earlier in the context of Operation Market Garden. Allied forces had captured Antwerp by the 5th of September but hadn’t consolidated their hold on this major port. This was perhaps the major oversight of the campaign. Part of the reason for the failure of Market Garden was the logistics problem of still supplying the allied forces from the Normandy beaches. Antwerp was unusable whilst the banks of the Schelde was held by 80,000 men of the German 15th Army. However their generals expected overwhelming British armour to sweep along the Northern coast and then clear the southern bank. They extracted their forces by night from Breskens across the Schelde To Vlissingen (Flushing) and marched into Holland above Antwerp This gave much needed reinforcements available for them in the Arnham area. The next day was a Sunday and we went to Nijmegen. We got to the south side of the infamous bridge. This is the original and showed that the Waal (Rhine) was a wider river than the Lower Rhine. It is being refurbished now as there is a second crossing available.
I have driven in The Netherlands many times but never before came across roundabouts where those on the roundabout have to give way to those joining. Luckily I knew about them so it wasn't a complete shock. There were several of these crazy roundabouts. Today I also I spent some time on the phone to 3 trying to get more data with only limited success. From Nijmegen we went to some of the other Market Garden bridges notably those at Grave, Veghel and Son. That night we went to a free stopover at Nuenen near Eindhoven. It was the hottest day and still 33C in the van at 9pm. Later there was a huge thunderstorm but Juno didn't seem too bothered. In other news a crown has come off so using a tiny spot of superglue gel I have refixed it.
South of Eindhoven the next day. We wanted to go to Thorn but needed a campsite so went to Ittervoort, 3km from Thorn. Drove to Thorn, the white village, for a recce saw that overnight parking was allowed for €2.5. After returning to the campsite we thought we would walk to a cafe we saw earlier that was welcoming a peloton of bike riders. Got there, they were closed, must have been a 'special'. Sign said they were closed Monday and Tuesday all other cafes were also closed. That evening I thought I saw something wrong with Juno's gum but didn’t check it out. Following morning saw she had a tick. Removed said tick with a twisty tool. We have carried these tick removal things for twenty years but have only used it twice, both recently since brand of tick and flea treatment was changed by vet.
Next day having filled up with water, emptied waste etc went to the park place at Thorn found that the cash part of the parking ticket machine was broken and the card part was for maestro type cards only. Nice lady took my €2.5 and used her card for me. Wandering into Thorn we looked at the historic church and the historic white houses before sitting down at a pancake cafe that might also have been historic. We seldom eat out but on this occasion indulged in pancakes and coffee.
Later that night we had beer at the same place, in between we drove a few km to the vet in Echt as although I was reasonably sure I had removed all the tick there was still a hard lump. The vet confirmed there were no mouth parts left behind and managed to remove most of the lump. She gave Juno a course of antibiotics and said that the new tick and flea treatment seemed to be the same as the old. She didn’t think those spot treatments were very effective. Perhaps we have just been lucky before. In the coming days we removed two more ticks. (see the end note about her ticks).
Lakes at Thorn
If you look at the map you will see that the area of The Netherlands down to Maastricht is narrow and sandwiched between Belgium and Germany The forecast was for heavy rain so we abandoned plans to go to Maastricht that day. As we travelled south by minor roads it stayed obstinately sunny. We were heading to a possible free site at a camping shop, planning to go from there tomorrow to the Maastricht southern park and ride (that evening we discovered on line that the southern P&R was in a height restricted 'garage'). The camping shop was excellent, but expensive, we did find the charcoal BBQ that we had noted at the goat farm it was much cheaper than the new CADAC gas equivalent but at €140 still a tad expensive. Especially when I saw the almost identical one for £36 plus P&P on eBay.
The camping shop was located in an industrial park and there was no grass for Juno. So we went for an alternative that happened to be in Belgium. Immediately we were in hills! This site was a yacht harbour on the Albertkanaal which was ok for €12. That evening we walked over the bridge and had a couple of beers in Kanne, noticing that several vans had parked on the opposite bank to us. Next morning those vans were still there having spent the night wild camping.
So all that we got extra for our money was toilet and showers but only to find next morning that they were being cleaned and wouldn't be finished for an hour. We did without and went to Maastricht's park and ride noord. Which is free parking and 2€ gets you a return trip to the centre. It soon became a lovely sunny day. We had our breakfast in an ‘American’ cafe but the coffee was still too small. Most of the day was spent wandering the old town, eating an icecream and then drinking beers and trying to avoid the expensive shops. Then at the end of the day, after coffee at a German themed cafe we went aboard a solar powered tourist bus which at the start took us along roads we had already discovered. Then we went by way of a park and old town walls to a corner of town that we hadn’t visited. We explored the area on foot later. My attention was drawn to an establishment that was done out in red lights. We found it was a sweet shop
We needed to plan the next five days, it was by now late afternoon Thursday. Sunday and Monday were religious holidays (Pinksterdag 1 and 2) so we knew we had to get in somewhere no later than Friday, and we wanted to visit Valkenburg so didn't want to go too far away. We also needed a campsite or equivalent for reasons of cassette emptying. The campsite we chose was an ACSI one and unlike most didn't have this weekend as a peak time. They were full but when I said I didn't need electricity and could we stay for one night, they said they did have one space but it was not really a pitch, sandwiched between an empty caravan and a chalet. We accepted it gratefully and so we stayed for all five nights. As well as a tourist tax there was an eco tax.
We just chilled out for the rest of the day and had a beer outside of the campsite’s restaurant. We booked a table inside for Friday.
Friday saw us doing our washing and exploring the village of Schimmert in sunshine and strong winds. We saw a sign to a coop and after going in the wrong direction found it and bought groceries. The restaurant was crowded that evening but we enjoyed our meals of beef tenderloin, and the best prawns I have ever had. The ACSI guide had said it was good and it was. I also had a beer that I had noticed someone else having the night before called Kwak which comes in a round bottomed glass and a holder.
The next day we went to a large camping and leisure shop at Brunssum which is really close to the German border, afterwards we tried to find a large covered market but it seemed to be defunct. So on instead to Valkenburg. We parked at first at a large car park at the top of a hill (!) that I think was mainly for a casino. Then found a better carpark not far from the town centre. Valkenburg was very touristy but after staying for a couple of hours resolved to come back the next day, Sunday, Pinksterdag 1, and stay for the day, a day’s parking ticket is a bargain at €10.
As we arrived we saw a gentleman dressed in old fashioned military uniform, then as we had coffee, another one, then a woman in a sort of uniform, then a few minutes later heard a military band strike up. We followed the band but never caught it up. This walk took us out of the centre and as we navigated ourselves back we came across a shop selling all sorts of semi-antique items with an elderly lady inviting us in (Juno as well) To give you an idea amongst various religious items there were a couple of books about Nigel Mansell and odd cups and saucers. It reminded me of a charity stall on a market. Arriving back at the centre we went on a tourist bus (we were going to do this yesterday but a crowd of loud drunken old men were waiting to board then). Anyway by the time we got to the end of the tour the parade had arrived.
We took photos and attempted to discover what it was all about. It turns out that it was very similar to the German Schützenfest where rifle marksmen shoot a wooden bird off a high pole and the winner becomes the king of marksmen for a day. Behind the scenes, at least in Germany, a real shooting competition takes place and its the winner of that becomes the king. The parade follows a format that we were able to see repeated the next day at Schimmert. There are men with antique rifles, a bride for the king wearing a wedding dress, three other women with baskets containing one ‘rampant’ baguette each, a band and beer and other alcoholic drinks are consumed. In Valkenburg the ladies on parade had large highly polished hip flasks containing gin I expect. The ‘King’ wears shiny regalia.
One place that had been pointed out to us was the ruined castle on a hill, apparently the only one on a hill in the Netherlands and we were also shown the steps. Well Doreen is not a fan of lots of steps but thought we would give it a go. We made it to the top and found there was no entrance there. The steps continued downwards and eventually back to the level of the town’s streets. There was a lift up to the ruins. After that and with no idea if dogs were allowed we gave it a miss. Returning to the main streets there were two pedestrian streets that were wall to wall bars and cafes and by mid afternoon jam-packed. That night back in the campsite we could hear loud fireworks, Juno was terrified.
The next day we decided to explore the wider area around Schimmert and we took a photo of a map of the walks to guide us. We failed at the first hurdle the start of the walk had been built over. No matter, we can use the main road and pick up the walk later. No, the later bit had been built over as well. Eventually when well away from the village centre we found our path.
We headed out into the countryside passing a place where the local shooting festival was. We wondered if that was the source of the fireworks. Anyway following the loop of the path we came back into town by the inn/cafe where we had a beer each. Juno started up all alert and a different marching band with a bride, a king, three women with baskets and bread etc etc. It was the band from the church opposite and they halted, fell out and came into the pub where lots of beer was awaiting them.
Today, 11th June was the start of the run home, we went first to the vet that had treated her tick in Echt to have the worming tablets (we took our own) then headed into Belgium. I was intrigued by the town of Lier where there should have been a place or two for motorhome parking along with a cubicle for cassette emptying, fresh water and a waste water drain. We found it with one pitch occupied by a motorhome but cars occupied the other. We went to an alternative from NKC app to find no overnight parking signs. I found a place next to the stadium but it wasn’t really suitable for a motorhome then we noticed a nearby restaurant with plenty of parking so I cheeky asked if we could stay in their carpark overnight, that was agreed. So in the sunshine spent the late afternoon walking in Lier.
That night we went to the restaurant and had an excellent meal. A little expensive, I had an excellent mushroom risotto and Doreen a vegetarian Lasagna Verde. The thing that really spoilt it was getting charged €5.99 for a 50cl still water (they apparently didn’t do tap water) and €6.99 for a very small wine. My Peroni was also €6 and that was the smallest bottle, only 22cl.
We had a comfortable night next to the restaurant and next morning with Doreen still asleep I drove to the main car park in the rain and was able to bag a pitch there. We walked around Lier in the rain (It seemed to be raining everywhere in Europe today). Doreen wanted a Belgian waffle with cream etc. When the bill arrived it was €19.60, that included three small coffees and the five strawberries were itemised on her waffle, costing €3! From Lier towards Oostend it is possible without too much of a detour to be in The Netherlands once again so we spent our last night in the pretty harbour town of Sas-van-Gent. Of note here was the swing bridge across the Gent Canal and it was where we bought our charcoal BBQ in their Lidl, nearly the same as the one for €139 seen at Maastricht, for just €39. It was very similar but has a chrome grill rather than an anodised cooking plate.
As we left for the tunnel it started raining but was sunny when we arrived to check Juno in with her Pet Passport. They made quite a lot on line of their all-weather comfort stop but Juno viewed it with distain, covered as it was in dog poo. So back to UK and a trouble free drive home even though we went around the M25 in rush hour.
Rereading this blog I can see I was overly worried about costs, I could easily have afforded another 500€ and as it was we had 250€ to spare. As usual our garden was a mess when we arrived home. Good for insects and birds though.
I took the problem with Ticks up with our vet and discovered to our horror that the spot medicine that we had been using didn't cover ticks I had asked I am sure for Advantix and was given as a replacement Endectrid which I now believe is similar to Advocate and covers only Lungworm and fleas. So for six months or so Juno hadn't been protected against ticks which as we are close to both deer and sheep grazing is a worry.