20 July 2012

Travel Diary

2012 tour of Holland and Denmark

Well it doesn’t seem a year since we were doing the preparation last time!  Usual checks to be done – passports and EHIC up to date, best type of travel insurance found and paid for (at our age and for the length of time we go away not quite so easy and any pre-existing medical conditions to be declared) and ferry tickets.  This year ACSI has given free camping carnets.  The ACSI  subscription is £11.50 but that does give us all the camping sites in Europe that accept their discount card in low season – the maximum we would pay is €16 per night and that includes electricity.  We also invested in a 2012 disc which gives an additional selection of sites and well worth paying for at around £11.50.  We also have a Camping Cheque Gold card which has a standard low season charge for any of their sites at £13.95.  Route planned (using ACSI or Camping Cheques sites wherever possible), motor-home loaded (useful to have a check-list of EVERYTHING we need to take and check it off as we go – we have been known to be a bit careless at the last minute and go off without the bird books! – and at last we think we are ready.  Holland, Denmark (and maybe a trip into Sweden) here we come.
An early morning start and down to Dover for the 10am ferry to Dunkerque then a short journey to our first site at Adinkerke – a pleasant little site that we know well – for a time to relax and stay overnight before moving on to our next port of call at Rjinsberg in the Netherlands.  Going via Bruges was a nightmare as there were road-works and very poor signage for diversions – ended up going down a road where we needed to turn around – the consolation was that we weren’t the only ones doing the same thing!  However we finally made it to the campsite and found ourselves amongst many English people.  Some had booked independently and some were with a Caravan Club rally.  Weather very cold though the sun was, at times, doing its best to shine.

First cycle ride was through bulb fields.  The variety of narcissi, daffodils, hyacinths and tulips is amazing and the long strips of colour and the beautiful scent is wonderful.  A coach trip to Amsterdam took us for another tour of bulb fields and we learned that this was the 3rd year in a row that all types of flowers were out at once – due to the strange weather pattern of recent weeks.  On the way to Amsterdam there was another stop at a cheese factory and clog maker where we had a demonstration of clog making.  It used to take 2 hours for a basic clog to be fashioned by hand, now with a machine it takes about 5 or 10 minutes.  Poplar wood is used and when the clog has been cut it is very wet and needs some days to dry out before the wood can be smoothed and polished.  Depending on usage a pair of clogs lasts for 6-8 months so they are not too expensive to buy.  On the return journey from Amsterdam we were taken to see the windmills by the canal at Zaanse Schans where there were also some very traditional little Dutch houses. 

A day trip to Keukenhof Gardens was a delight – the colours and variety of the millions of narcissi, tulips, and hyacinths immaculately planted in rows, curves and many other combinations called for many photographs to be taken!  In the pavilions there were displays of orchids and other flowers.  It is a place that you could make many visits to and still not see everything. Maybe another time!! 

Installment 2

Already nearly 3 weeks into our holiday and we seem to have been away for ever!  Its been lovely having friends in the area and we have been able to see more of the area than we would have done on our own.  One lot of friends visited us on our first campsite, then picked us up from the second site at Delft and took us to their house for a typical cheese fondue.  We spent a day in Delft as the campsite is only a 15-20 minute walk from the campsite.  The town itself is surrounded by canals and you can’t just cross the street – you have to go to the nearest bridge – fortunately in abundance.  Moving on from Delft to Gouda and parking on the drive of some other friends (all met on various camping holidays).  Part of their garden is a lake and at the end of the lake is a stork’s nest on a pole which kept us all very interested in watching the parent storks keeping the eggs safe and warm and our friends anxiously awaiting the appearance of the little ones.  We had a visit to some famous windmills at Alblasserdam looking great even in the rain! – then on to Rotterdam and a climb up inside the windmill at Delfshaven where flour is still made and sold along with a variety of cake and muffin mixes.  There are so many canals in this part of Holland and to get from one place to another often means quite a roundabout route, though in the winter when the canals are frozen it is possible to walk across the ice.  It almost seemed like winter when we were there, very cold morning and evening though the days were a little better.  One walk we went on around the canals ending up in a soaking for all of us – no not from the canal, but from an extremely heavy downpour!  Time to leave Holland and head for Denmark with a couple of stops on the way including one at Kiel where we stayed for 2 nights and had a nice enough day to be able to have a good walk along the beach.  Arriving near Arhus in Denmark finding the weather no better, slightly warmer but wetter and the campsite is full of puddles and flooded and soggy fields.  Fortunately there are some motorhome pitches with hard-standing which is great.  Hoping the weather improves enough for us to get out on our bikes and do some exploring.

3rd Installment

It did turn very cold in Arhus and we had to put the heating on even though we were sitting with several layers of clothing on!  We did spend a day in the city (every town, village etc seems to be called a ‘city’) and there were places we would like to have seen had the weather been better but we decided to move on again and had in mind to spend time in Cologne at one of our favourite sites if that’s what the weather dictated, however arriving at Hasmark Strand Camping, a few miles north of Odense, there was a wonderful change in the weather and we were able to do some cycling and sit outside the van without coats on!  This campsite is very much Viking orientated with a huge model of a Viking at the entrance and the decoration on the buildings are all geared to that style.  The wash basins in the facilities block were basins like we have never seen before!  Decorated glass basins without a conventional tap, but a circle of glass with a lever in the middle and the water cascades down into the basin!  Couldn’t resist taking a photo!  We did a lovely cycle ride around a spit of land jutting into the Odense Fjord and saw a lovely array of wild flowers, butterflies, deer, cows and birds including eider ducks, skylarks and a red-breasted merganser which we had never seen before.  This was a conservation area and very beautiful.  While we were at the campsite near Kiel we saw a wryneck – again a bird we hadn’t seen before.  There have also been a number of ducks and geese which we weren’t close enough to identify and there have been a few yellow-hammers around.  When we first arrived at the site we were told about Brunsvigor – a type of cake/pastry with a sort of caramel/butterscotch coating – and were told that it was a speciality of the Fyn area and that it was delicious but very addictive.  We found some, we tried it and… yes, they’re right – it is addictive.  Perhaps its as well we will be moving on very soon.   

4th Installment

Move on we did, but only a short distance and still found Brunsvigor!  However we did some cycling and convinced ourselves that that counteracted the cake!  Odense City Camp was only about 3 miles from the city centre via a cycling route through the woods and along the river bank, passing the zoo on the way and over the course of our several journeys we saw camels, zebras, llamas, giraffes and ostriches.  It was interesting to see the house that Hans Christian Anderson lived in as a young child and also to visit the museum which was very informative and well worth a visit.  The Railway Museum was also worth visiting and we happened to be there for Thomas the Tank Engine’s 4-day visit (brought from Wales).  The weather was beautiful while we were there and dozens of people were taking advantage of it and relaxing in groups on the grass in the parks – bicycles propped again trees or just lying on the grass.  Less than a mile from the campsite was Den Fynske Landsby where we spent a day.  This was a collection of old houses, farms and buildings from the area brought together to show the old way of life in Denmark.  The day we went was a Bank Holiday in the country, down on the calendar as a Day of Prayer.  Because it was a holiday there were demonstrations going on which included sheep-shearing the old-fashioned way which took a long time and the sheep wasn’t too pleased at having to stand for so long and be sheared!   In one building two ladies were toasting a special bread and giving samples spread with jam to visitors.  Years ago on the Day of Prayer people went to church to pray 7 times during the day and because there wasn’t time to cook meals, they made special bread the day before and toasted it in between the prayer sessions.  As we walked around we heard singing and came across a group of Morris Dancers from Hertfordshire!    

5th Installment

Denmark is made up of many islands and our next stop was Copenhagen.  We had a choice of going on a ferry or crossing the 22km. bridge.  The first part of the bridge had the railway running alongside the road, then near the middle of the channel we came down to a small island and were on the level for about 2 or 3 kms before going up again over the Storebælt which was the channel for shipping, including cruise ships, going to Norway and Sweden and all places north.  On the island the railway line separated from the road and went through a tunnel under the sea.  The Copenhagen campsite was about 9kms from the city but a good train service made travel easy.  We were very impressed with the train system – efficient, frequent and clean and with some brightly coloured carriages.  Copenhagen is a lovely city and home to the Little Mermaid which we did see this time – last time we were in Denmark she was ‘on her holidays’ at an exhibition in China.  There is a large cruise ship terminal where its possible to walk very close to the enormous liners.  A visit to Nyhavn with its many restaurants along the quay was a ‘must’ but we were disappointed to have to eat a birthday celebration meal inside the building instead of sitting out under one of the parasols by the water and soaking up the atmosphere, but it was a better option as the weather was cold and wet.  We are not sure what the custom is but when the waitress knew it was a birthday celebration she brought a flag to stand on the table – a Danish one because they didn’t have an English one! – and when one of the customers was leaving she came across and said ‘Congratulations’.

6th Installment

Although we had considered going across to Sweden over the bridge which eventually goes down to an island and the road continues through a tunnel, but we abandoned that idea – partly due to the cost and partly due to the weather – and confirmed our decision to head down to Germany and one of our favourite sites by the Rhine at Cologne.  We made one more stop in Denmark, back at Odense for a couple of nights to make a visit to Fyn Bazar which had looked interesting and we didn’t have time to do it first time round.  It was a huge covered Asian bazaar/market which was worth a visit.  There were numerous restaurants serving different sorts of Asian food, and there was a good selection of shops including spice stalls, clothing stalls and a large area with all manner of fruit and vegetables which we found to be very good value.  At the campsite there was a swimming pool, not yet in use except for a duck which seemed to have made it its home. 

Leaving Odense our next stop was Lubeck where we spent a couple of nights.  We cycled into the city along cycle paths where we felt quite safe even when the path was marked on the actual road.  A lot of the European cities are cycle-friendly and vehicles do allow cyclists space, even going around round-abouts where the path is marked, as in most places, in red tarmac.  Lubeck is a city with very impressive buildings – probably a lot of history as well, but we weren’t there long enough to learn a great deal about it.  This was another place where the campsite was only about 3 miles from the city centre and like most of the places we stay at it had public transport near the gate.

Moving on once more, with a big chunk of driving ahead of us this time, we made our way (through thunderstorm and rainstorm!) to Rodenkirchen just south of Cologne to Camping Berger.  We were lucky in being able to get to one of the pitches by the fence next to the tow-path, with a great view of the river and its traffic – barges, boatels and pleasure trip boats as well as watching canoeists and rowers.  Again, cycling is easy and it’s a lovely 5 mile ride along the tow-path to the centre of Cologne.  There was a change in the weather and we enjoyed a really hot day exploring the shops, the cathedral square with its numerous ‘human statues’ and someone in full Scottish attire, playing the bagpipes.  As usual there was plenty going on on the river, and along the wide promenade with endless ice-cream, sausage and burger stalls there were people with their suitcases waiting to join the boatel, some queuing up to take a river trip to Koblenz in one direction or Dusseldorf in the other direction and many just strolling.  The biggest problem for cyclists is trying to avoid walkers! 
We made a point of cycling in the opposite direction as well, to a floating pontoon restaurant that we have frequented on previous occasions where we have enjoyed good meals and with a perfect view up and down the river.  It is always with reluctance that we leave this site but time moves on and we were looking forward to our next stop near Venlo where we would meet friends and also make a visit to Floriade 2012.

7th Installment

Floriade only takes place every 10 years and we had been looking forward to our visit, however we were left somewhat disappointed with it.  We had expected more flowers and horticulture and although there were some flowers and gardens a lot of the displays were technical information and computer pictures.  The international village was quite interesting with the countries represented housed in a building which was typical of their region and selling crafts from that country.  Very much a trade area.  We spoke to a number of other people in our travels and everyone seemed to have the same feeling of disappointment and one Englishman who had been to Floriade about 30 or 40 years ago said it was nothing like he remembered.  We were glad we had been, but wouldn’t go again!   The campsite was about 10 miles from the Floriade site and we were told that there was a direct cycle route to it, but having thought about that and knowing that we would have that same journey back after walking around all day we opted to take the motor-home to the parking area a little way away from the Floriade area which had a continuous shuttle bus service to Floriade.  A much better idea!  We did a shorter cycle ride or about 5 miles into Sevenum, a small town with an interesting statue of a donkey with 2 heads – we still have to find out the significance of that – we’re working on it!

Our last port of call was Adinkerke where the camp-site is next door to a Theme Park, Plopsaland.  Its quite entertaining to hear the rumble of the roller-coaster and listen to the yells and shouts of the riders and to watch the chair-o-plane going up and down the tall tower.  The site is just under 2 miles from the French border and we cycled down to Bray-Dunes and discovered a large Carrefour supermarket which was handy although there was a very good Del Haize and also a Lidl at the end of the road, about half a mile from the site.  At the campsite we were opposite another couple from Kent who also used TC Motors as their motor-home dealer! What a small world!

On the Sunday we cycled into De Panne and stopped along the promenade to listen to a short Thanksgiving Service (in English and with British Legion representatives taking part) remembering the evacuation from Dunkerque.  It was quite moving and we were glad to have been there at the right time.  Cycling to the end of the promenade we sat on a seat on the beach to enjoy the sunshine and were joined by a Belgian couple who told us about the festival in Ostende, Ostende voor Anker taking place over the Whitsun Bank Holiday weekend.  They also told us that we could buy tram tickets for €5 for a day, traveling anywhere by tram.  We decided that would be a nice way to spend Monday so we went to the tram station at Adinkerke on the way back and bought our tickets in advance.

Monday dawned another hot and sunny day and we walked to the end of the road to the tram stop and did the 1¼ hour journey to Ostende, going all along the coast.  As we past some of the bunkers and other reminders of the war there were men dressed as soldiers waving to all who past by – near enough to D-Day to make it a special occasion.  At Ostende we made our way across from the station to the quay where there were numerous tents selling an array of nautical articles as well as cheese from Switzerland, and a variety of other goods.  Plenty of fish and shell-fish stalls and we even found a stall selling Fisherman’s Rolls manned by a couple of people from Hastings Old Town.  The first boat we came to had a group of men singing sea-shanties – lovely to listen to and we spent a bit of time just standing there.  It was also possible to go on to a lot of the old boats which were moored there, most of them with an array of bunting.  An old traction engine, a steam engine and a steam roller added to the attraction of the festival.  After a few more days of rest and relaxation at the site it was time to head for home.  Although the site is only about 25 miles from Dunkerque we make it a point to go there the night before our morning boat and stay in the waiting area where we can sleep until its time to go and check in for departure and it saves us having to get up too early and travel along the auto-route.

Although we did have some nice hot and sunny days the overall memory of the weather is cold and wet!  However, we have been to places which were new to us and all the places we visited this year have been good for cycling – Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Germany.  The areas we went to in Germany this year were fairly flat and the others were definitely flat and cycling was very easy everywhere. 

Using ACSI and Camping Cheques and going in low season keeps the cost down considerably (at one Camping Cheque site it cost less than half the price in the book) and picking possibly unsocial hours for the ferry keeps that cost down too.  Fuel costs slightly less than in England and food bills would be about the same – some items less, some more, but you have to eat at home anyway so that balances out.

We covered about 2,030 miles in total in 7½ weeks – now planning the next trip!