Monday, 29 May 2017

North Europe and Scandinavia Tour (NEST) - The Netherlands

So here we are again. This time, after a lengthy visit home, we are on a Northern Europe and Scandinavian campervan adventure in our recently acquired little motorhome. Officially named "Crawlie". Originally a rubbish suggestion by our friend Dr Vic who offered a confusing naming option of "The Crawling Condor - 'Crawlie' for short" and adopted by us on account of the tremendous speed she attains with a good wind behind her.

We won't bore you with details of our buying decisions or the copious miles we covered going hither and thither up and down country to find our perfect van. But rest assured both were plentiful. Therefore. Having bought, insured, cleaned, added to and stocked our new small home. As well as overstaying our welcome and exhausting the hospitality of our family and friends. We have hit the open road for a 6 weeks run through the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Time will tell how that goes and whether Crawlie is up for the bigger, longer and more arduous European Tour shortly afterwards .....

Ready for the off
Our Northern Europe adventure starts with a smooth crossing from Harwich to Hook of Holland and straight out onto the most clearly marked roads we've seen. Driving in the Netherlands (interesting fact we picked up about Holland/Netherlands. 'Holland' is a province within the Netherlands and only includes Amsterdam and its surrounding area in the west of the country. We didn't know this!) is so easy. Road signs are clear with plentiful arrows on the roads and even road bumps separating lanes around roundabouts. Their provision for cyclists is absolutely fantastic, it's no wonder there are so many cyclists and cycle paths And - its flat! As if that's not enough, this prosperous, middle class, highly developed country boasts beautiful cities with extraordinary architecture and is peopled by tall, blond, blue eyed, healthy, good looking bunch of of liberal minded, coolly dressed, generous folk.

Gouda cheese shop
Anyway, first stop Gouda. Just a short drive of about 40kms and we find an overnight parking place with electric hook up and water that's free between 9pm and 9am. We love the Netherlands! We do pay €8 for the next day and head off on our bikes to explore. We cycle like a couple of teenage kids on school summer holidays along a cycle path to Oudewater. A quaint little town that apparently used to think skinny women were witches and would put them on some scales with cheese on the other side for the weight. If they were less than the cheese they were a witch. I agree, skinny birds are witches, burn them all! Oh, forgot to mention the Gouda cheese. Tried some in a shop in the town and they flavour it with all sorts of stuff; lavender, paprika, horseradish. Absolutely delish.

Trademark of Amsterdam
Next stop...Amsterdam. We are lucky enough to know Peter and Natasha in Amsterdam and were directed to a free parking space out of town to leave Crawlie and Peter met us there on his bike. We did the ducks and drakes thing and followed him very closely to their apartment in the west of the city. 

Rachel Natasha and Peter
They are a cultured couple, and still friends with us, Natasha has an online gallery for modern art jewellery and works for an art gallery and Peter is a paper restorer and managed a department at the highly prestigious Rucks Museum. They were very generous with their time and their home and showed us the sights and fed us traditional Netherlands food. Basically sausage, mash and gravy. So not only do the Netherlands share their sense of humour with us Brits but also their love of comfort food! We cycled and walked around the confusing mazes of streets and canals, had history, architecture, art and the finer points of the red light district explained to us.

Deventer Town Hall 
From Amsterdam we head west to Deventer, a town recommended to us by Peter and, sure enough, it is absolutely beautiful. As we cycle along yet another incredible cycle path following the river the spires of the churches dotted around the city come into view. We arrive in a very pretty square and tourist information gives us a map of the old cobbled streets to wander round. We spend a pleasant couple of hours here and cycle back to our campsite which on a farm about 14 kms away. It's here we meet a friendly Dutch couple, also in a campervan, who almost immediately invite us to their place for dinner the next day. We had a kind of plan to leave the Netherlands and get across Germany to start the Scandinavia adventure proper, but you know us, never say no to an invite. So the next day we toodle over to Aalreike and Arjan's small holding and B and B. 

New world  champions for Speed Dinner Invitations
We receive yet more Dutch hospitality. They make us feel so welcome, giving us a place to park the van, some where to shower and plug us in for electric. We're starting to kick up a bit so the shower is rather welcome and from their faces is probably necessary. As we are sit down for dinner their family of three children introduce themselves and we all sit down to eat a delicious spag bol together. They are absolutely delightful and feed and entertain us, that is when Chris gives them chance as he is enjoying a new audience to regale with our stories! We leave the next morning feeling all the love that the Netherlands and its people have given us. 

The next leg is across the border into Germany and driving over 500kms in two long days of slow driving...possibly a little too much for Crawlie?! See the next instalment to find out....

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Land of hoes and glory

When we came back to England on 23rd March - deliberately travelling over the 22nd March and thereby allowing me to ignore my 56th birthday - we decided that on this visit we would try to view the place through the eyes of the traveller. Over the years we have spent away we have oohed and aahhed lyrically in our blog about many places but never about the country we left behind. It is an exercise I urge you all to undertake. Not only with places you are returning to but with people, experiences, and perceptions. Try hard to cast aside what you thought you thought and and actually see what is before your eyes, what you are hearing with your ears and what you are feeling now rather than what you think you should be feeling. It can be quite surprising

So the first three or four weeks after standing on our native soil we literally basked in beautiful sunny days and our spirits soared. All Brits will recognise that tingle on the skin, that shift in ourselves and the feeling of lifting of our souls when we turn our faces to the sun and feel warmth after months of ..... Not.

Well this is what we felt as we looked upon budding trees, vibrant new grass shoots and saw the rich greens of rolling fields or shady woods filtering the sun through their leafs. The sounds of birds, the smells of flowers and cow muck.  A fine countryside to rival anywhere

We have long argued the dominance of London as the best city on earth and this point of view was strengthened by re seeing the incredible architecture, the diversity of its people and the plethora of its entertainments both astoundingly pricey and amazingly free. But forget not those other pockets of England where flint, cobblestone, yorkstone or aged brick mingle with wooden beams, thatched roofs and country gardens. 

And yet, for all that, seeing Britain in snapshots as we do showed us jealousy, ignorance, lack of respect, unnecessary anger and other selfish traits that surprised us. Driving is scarier here than any place....I mean any place (even those with no rules) I have driven in. Personal space whilst walking through a town is guarded to such an extent that it is easier to move through Tokyo than most cities. And what's with giving the streets over to the young, self concerned and drunk most evenings. There is little pleasure walking in the town centre after dark and deffo not a place for families or the elderly and sadly I felt I fitted that second category. It is a shame but i guess this is complex country that is still finding its way towards Utopia

And here lies the fundamental dilemma we face daily. In that environment of both glory and disappointment are our families and dear, dear friends. People close to our hearts whom we think of daily. So for you - please accept our apologies for running away and for our continued absence. As they say "It's not you It's me" 
Please accept our invitations to come and visitt To meet us in far flung parts of the world and please please please keep communicating with us. We love to here your news ad general chit chat.

Thank you for making our stay wonderful.