Posted in Holland

13th June 2022, Holland part 3

After the previous evening of rain we awoke to a sunny morning with young rabbits around most of the pitches. Right next to our motorhome was a family of four hawfinches feeding on the ground, the colours of the male were bright and we had a great views his chestnut head and the huge blue-grey beaks, on the two youngsters as well as the adult birds. A good start to our day. We took a bus to the small town of Amersfoort south east of Amsterdam and immediately thought what a pretty place it was. An old town gate with towers made a nice entrance and in a large square was a huge clock tower which dominated the skyline standing 322 feet 7 inches high and as we gazed up at it over apple pie and a beer, we heard the familiar cries of a peregrine as it circled the ornate pinnacles and weathervane. On each quarter hour, part of a tune was played by the bells, culminating finally on the hour with the full finale before also chiming the hour.

Beautiful traditional brick buildings with Dutch gables of varying styles, fancy stone work, wooden shutters and brick paved roads and squares give the town an Old Worlde feel. Canals form a regular grid between the roads with small bridges located at intervals, it is so pretty. It’s noticeable how there is a gentle pace of life with, locals chatting in the shops and cafes and multitudes of bikes in numerous styles to suit families, the daily shopping run or just the most popular way of getting around.

A great way to see the sights was to take an electric sightseeing boat around the canals and look up at the buildings and bridges. The commentary was in Dutch but we had an information sheet plus the guide had excellent English and pointed out a few extra things to us.

A short journey by train took us into Amsterdam where we walked to Rembrandt Square, Dam Square and around the flower market. Next day we went in again to meet up my with niece Emily. Our personal guide took us around the city she calls home, showing us the pretty canals and squares, the oldest building which is called De Oude Kerk is a church dating to 1213 . We circled around part of the Red Light District spotting a few ladies in windows before visiting the Nine Streets in the Jordaan Area and it’s lovely quiet canals where we found a nice bar for a few drinks.

As a contrast to the city we drove up the east side of the lower Zuidersee to Almere for a walk around an Internationally important bird conservation area. As everything is so flat the skies are vast, but within ten minutes we had the best bird of the trip, a magnificent white tailed eagle which floated around above us for over ten minutes, serious neck ache was achieved! Also we heard a bird neither of us recognised, it was a first for us identifying a Marsh Warbler by its song using BirdNET, a really useful App. We heard it many times around the marshes and canals but never got to see it, unlike the normally elusive cuckoo which we’ve heard such a lot all over Holland, we actually saw two of those. After walking around 4 miles and spending time in a tall bird hide watching geese, a great white egret, great crested grebes and numerous types of duck, we were nearly finished when a beautiful bittern did a fly-past, just couldn’t get better than that.

The distances around Holland are not great, so on our way to the coast we stopped off at some more lakes for a walk, admired thatched houses in various styles, lots of wildflowers and butterflies plus added a red crested pochard and kingfisher to our bird list.

At the campsite near Bloemendaal on the west coast the weather finally became beach friendly, so we had a day walking on the sand for a couple of miles, stopped for a drink and walked back again to have lunch overlooking the beach. It was so relaxing and warm, we able to wear shorts again and cooking an evening meal outside which was a real treat.

Haarlem was just a short bus ride away and another really beautiful town complete with a windmill grinding grain into flour, canals of course, a tall elegant church tower, large town square and a picturesque white lifting bridge.

Added to all those amazing features, we found Jopen, a local brewery in an old church still retaining its arched windows and outside there was a large seating area to sit and choose from it’s range of 20 home brewed ales. With the ABV ranging from 3.3% to 11.4%, and 17 of the beers above 5%, you had to keep to the small glasses if you wanted to try a few!

Our last stay was at Gouda, famous for it’s cheese of course but also having the oldest Gothic city hall in Holland, dating from 1450 and having been rebuilt after a fire destroyed the original. On our visit Gouda was celebrating 750 years having been founded in 1272. Around the city hall in the middle of a huge square, several beach volley ball courts had been built at one end with sand shipped in for the surfaces.

The following morning a large market had transformed the rest of the space with fresh flowers, meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and clothes. It certainly would be a place for a longer stay as there was a lot going on.

To round off our holiday on our return to Harwich we travelled a few miles south to stay with Maureen and Kenny for a couple of nights. After a late night chatting to the small hours, we enjoyed a great morning Geocashing around fields and the coast notching up 13 cashes in total followed by a beer, more chatting and a great Thai meal in the evening. What a wonderful finale!

On our trip around Holland we travelled by motorhome, bicycle, bus, train and water taxi. We stayed in 11 different locations and I drove 690 miles while there, with a lot of it below sea level. We walked 124 miles in 24 days, cycled 17 miles in one day and took numerous boat trips but no idea how far we went! We have a bird count of 92 bird species and 8 different butterflies and have seen more hares here than I’ve ever seen in the UK. There are so many huge herds of dairy cows, no wonder they make tons of cheese. And there are a lot of windmills and canals!

Posted in Holland

2nd June, Holland – Part 2

Schockland is shown as a darker green within the circle

This part of our trip was planned to be different, full of National Parks and admiring Holland’s landscape and nature. We started this section off with a visit to a former island, Schockland; it was an island in a previous life, now it’s reduced outline can still be seen within the ‘sea’ of reclaimed land surrounding it. It was a low lying strip of land with a farming community but they had to keep moving to higher ground because sea levels were rising, flooded by the sea on numerous occasions, the island was evacuated around 1859.

Following the draining of the Zuiderzee, a ‘Polder’ of land is formed by building sea defences and pumping out the water, the new land is usually lower and therefore at risk of flooding so is generally used as agricultural land although there are now villages and hotels on this land. This area of created land surrounded Schockland and another island called Urk, covers 208 square miles and is nearly 10 feet below sea level.

We had a beautiful sunny day and walked around the pathways of this former island with lovely views and wild flowers. There was the outline of an old church at one end and you could see where the building had been enlarged from the brick outlines. The wooded area was full of bird song, the most notable being 3 singing nightingales which was wonderful as the last one we heard was 10 years ago.

Enroute to a new campsite on a brilliant sunny day, we stopped at the National Park de Hoge Veluwe, a vast area of 21 square miles with woods, heathland and sand dunes. This was a real adventure because we were going on bikes and for those of you who don’t know, Chris cannot ride a bike. This place is fantastic, it has hundreds of white bikes parked at 3 different locations within the park, they are free to use so anyone can go to ride around the area. There are many styles of bikes available to hire for those with different requirements, tandems, side by sides, mountain bikes, wheelchair bikes, and child seats, also some electric bikes. Chris had a trike that we hired for €10 (£8) for the whole day and I rode a free white one; we took a picnic and rode around 17 miles in total with many stops for birds and breaks.

We peddled through the lovely deciduous woodland with foxgloves, around part of a lake and a country house, along the top of heathland where the views went on for miles and we found a pond where dragonflies skimmed the surface and garden warblers sang from the birch trees. At the end we were both seriously glad to get off and we probably should have only gone for half a day, but it was a great experience and one I can recommend.

From a campsite on the edge of Dordrecht we were able to walk along the waterways for several miles and watch the birds and butterflies before entering into a park with grassy spaces, trees and lake.

Some trees were covered with webs made by a type of ermine moth caterpillar. From the ground up, the tree trunks and branches were festooned with ghostly webs, not a leaf anywhere, all eaten by tiny mouths. Not just one tree either, lots of them had received the treatment and nettles and nearby bushes too. This happens usually in May and June then the caterpillars pupate and the trees recover.

We caught a train and two water-taxis to Kinderdijk , a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so we could visit a collection of 19 windmills built around 1740. Unfortunately it was a dull grey day so not as picturesque as it could be, but we had a lovely walk close to them and went inside one with the living quarters set out with typical furniture of the time. There was an information video explaining how the windmills pumped water from the low lying land up to the next dyke level, then another and another until it finally was pumped into the river, an on going process which explained the need for the numbers of windmills historically in Holland.

Another wet day and a train journey took us into Schiedam to visit the National Jenever Museum. Jenever is made from malted barley and distilled into malt wine. Originally there were around 400 distilleries over the past centuries in the old city of Schiedam so a massive quantity of milled barley was required. Traditional ‘bakers’ windmills had limited capacity and eventually dedicated windmills were constructed within the city, they needed to be built taller to catch the wind and are now the tallest in the world.

The museum was very interesting and exhibits well displayed with English panels and audio devices. I particularly liked the great number of ‘branding irons that were used to mark the barrels, the symbols became recognised as a certain distillers logo, hence ‘brand names’. Also a wonderful display of square bottles originally designed to go in wooden crates, padded by straw and the shape allowed them to be packed and removed easily. The display showed a large range of bottles with different labels changing annually right up to 2022. We paid for a tasting and shared samples of 6 different malt wines or Jenevers which can be used in various ways as straight drinks or cocktails.

With all the waterways and National Parks here, we thought we’d try a bit of boating at Beisbosch National Park. As the weather has been very mixed we opted for one with a cover for both the passenger and the driver, me! Well I soon discovered that I’m a bit short and sat on the driver’s seat with my legs dangling like a school kid. A folded coat didn’t help much, so we folded a seat cushion in thirds and I perched on that barely able to see over the length of the boat, so I peered around the outside or through the inside. Anyway we had a great time, ate our picnic enroute during our 3 hour voyage of discovery and added a little egret to our bird tally, it’s apparently quite rare in Holland.

For something completely different and to add a bit of ‘culture’s during our adventures, we visited Kasteel de Haar in the Utrecht region. It was surprisingly modern and beautiful with formal gardens and parkland, thankfully we first admired the gardens, scented roses, wisteria and rose arches plus the moated surround to the castle before the heavens opened, yet again!

The castle is the largest in Holland dating from the 13th century but having fallen into disrepair, it was basically rebuilt between 1892 and 1912. It was Baron Etienne Van Zuylen and his wife Hélène Rothschild who employed an famous architect called Pierre Cuypers to restyle and build the new castle. There were so many beautiful rooms both upstairs and down, modern bathrooms of the day and a huge kitchen. Everything was so colourful and lavish, the rooms were large and airy and overlooked the gardens and parkland.

As we left the palace the rain was coming down hard and we made a fast exit back through the gardens to Lisa where we ate our picnic in comfort, the plan was to have a pleasurable stop while walking around the park. Oh well, can’t win every time.

Posted in Holland

2022, May – Holland, Part One

Rough Guide to our trip around Holland

25th May 2022, The Netherlands

Taking a ferry overnight from Harwick to The Hook of Holland we arrived refreshed and ready to start exploring at the start of the day. Travelling north east the land is criss-crossed by water ways and canals with mile upon mile of flat land, greenhouses and dairy cows. Skirting south of the Amsterdam and over vast stretches of water we arrived in Durgerdam, a pretty small village of typical steeply roofed, wooden fronted, colourfully painted small houses. There were so many flowers and benches or chairs outside it had a relaxed feel as we walked alongside the water looking a numerous boats.

A short while further on we drove over a causeway onto Marken, only joined by a slim causeway, it is essentially and island in the Markenmeer which is the southerly end of the old Zuiderzee. Although it was sunny there was a biting chill to the wind and we sheltered in front of a row of restaurants down by the waters edge for a drink and watched the world go by for a while. Later we retraced our drive and headed for Monnickendam, the most picturesque sight of painted houses around a harbour awaited us. It was like something out of a film set with pretty bridges, Dutch gables, flowers, clogs and numerous bicycles in dedicated cycle parks.

Resuming our wander around, the ‘quaintness’ factor was everywhere, too many opportunities for yet another pretty photo, and the envy of looking at gardens with a waterway running past made for an hour of delightful viewing.

We stayed at a nearby marina and enjoyed walking around the town next day, all the streets were made of small bricks in various patterns; interesting, hardwearing and colourful, it made such a change to the regular black tarmac from home.

Many of the houses had elaborate brickwork, detailed plaques and amazing tall gables. The church supported a beautiful tower with two layers of bells high up, and when the clock struck the hour you could watch the hammers striking the bells to play a tune. While this was going on the Angel blew it’s trumpet and four figures on horseback below revolved, chasing around until the chiming finished. It was a wonderful sight and sound.

The town itself was another gem, waterways lined with pretty houses, little bridges, boats and bicycles everywhere. After walking around 4 miles during the day we decided to try some of the lovely beers with views over the water sitting in the sunshine before visiting the Waterland Brewery where we tried 4 small beers and had a cheese and cold meat platter. It was such a perfect day with only a short walk back over boardwalk to our campsite.

We drove out to an interesting place near Volendam called Simonehoeve Cheese and Clog Farm, where a lady in traditional costume told us how Edam cheese was made and aged with various favouring added. Also she showed us the clogs and how they were made mainly from poplar but also some willow, obviously hard wearing, although they look cumbersome they are light weight, support feet well and are warm in winter and cool in summer.

There is a vast and dedicated network of cycle-ways and walkways which make these pursuits a safe and pleasant pastime. The paths are completely separate from the roads and follow alongside fields and waterways making it so easy to get around without using cars. We walked to Volendam passing colourful wildflowers and a lots of Cotton Grass looking spectacular in huge swathes, also adding several birds to our sightings, 2 spoonbills were feeding in a water channel, a great white egret took off as we approached and there were lapwings, shelduck and numerous coots among others. A windmill punctuated the skyline looking wonderful against the blue sky, the top and sides were thatched which was a surprise, the sails and control ropes all in place suggested it was an active mill. After a good walk around we returned on the local bus to collect Lisa from her parking space and move on to our next over-night stop at Enkhuizen, a clean grassy oasis with water ways behind.

A day of travel on several forms of transport started with a boat trip on the Friesland, comfortable and warm on quite a grey and chilly day. We passed all types of boats during our voyage from one of the moorings in Enkhuisan out into the northerly section of the Zuiderzee which is now called IJesselmeer Lake. Finally disembarking at Medemblik we visited a Bakery and Chocolate working museum with old machinery, fantastic displays, demonstrations, all very interesting and tasty chocolates and biscuits to come away with.

The next form of transport was a steam train to take us to Hoorn. The sight, sounds and smells of yesteryear were great and we soon found the only carriage with upholstered seats, don’t quite know how but it was very welcome. Walking up and down the carriages to take photos as we travelled, I soon realised ‘our carriage’ was the luxurious one as others only had wooden bench seats!

The town of Hoorn had a 50s & 60s music festival on and most cafes and bars had dancing and music in the streets with many people dressed in the fashions of the time.

The final transport was a double decker train, (sorry forgot a photo), of course we sat on the top row for the best views and saw several fields with peonies, the last few tulips, lots of black Friesland horses many with foals, and hundreds of dairy cows, so many herds here unlike the UK now. Arriving back to Enkhuizen it completed the triangle in a small part of Holland.

In Enkhuisen there is the large Zuiderzee Museum occupying the building originally a pepper warehouse for the Dutch East India Company dating from 17th century. It’s aim is to show what life was like in the early 20th century with household furniture, room set ups, school rooms, fashion and cooking facilities. A whole room was dedicated to show the creation of huge dams to close off the Zuiderzee following storms in 1916 that destroyed villages and killed many people. Outside was another large section set out like a village with houses and buildings relocated to preserve them and now showing life in various settings; a blacksmith, bakery, sweet shop, chemist, smokehouse with herrings, fishermen homes with boats and nets. We spent most of the day there sustained by a traditional apple tart and coffee, delicious!

To complete our first week we travelled north on the A7 crossing a dam called The Afsluitdijk to the eastern side. It is a feat of engineering built between 1927-1932 and runs for 20 miles, only 24 feet above sea level and most of it slightly wider than a dual carriageway with a strip of reclaimed land on either side. Entering into the Province of Friesland we went the scenic route through the wide open landscape dotted with farms and a patchwork of fields surrounded by waterways. Hindeloopen is a pretty village located on the coast where we stopped for a walk around, found an interesting sculpture of deer antlers encircling a tree of life, a church with leaning tower and lots of small bridges. Lunch in the sun opposite the harbour was entertaining as we watched a steady flow of bicycles, people and dogs, boats coming and going, and a huge articulated lorry negotiate the small bridge on the way out, typical lorry driver did it with ease!

Onward to Sloten, a tiny village for a cheap couple of nights on a marina, the yachts moored up in front make a nice view along with coots and mallard, swooping swallows and house martins, soaring swifts and a cuckoo, we’ve only heard that though, not actually seen it! Nice to have a day to go slow, because rain woke us in morning, then thunder, the sun came out and went in again, followed by more rain and more sun, which has continued most of the day. About 4pm the clouds rolled away and we had a 3 mile walk around a extremely quiet lane being passed by one car and a Landrover. Apart from hoping to add to our bird list we were on a mission to find a Geocashe using the App to home in on it by climbing over a fence by a water treatment facility. If we had come in the opposite direction, no fence climbing was necessary!

Walking back through the town we found another sculpture and which turned out to be part of a series in various towns, the deer antlers previously seen was part of the trail. After a beer we headed back to Lisa decked out with celebratory 70th Jubilee flags and bunting.