So we are now 5 days into our camping experience and I am starting to feel like a professional! Mind you it is hard work – 60km on a bike and then get to destination to offload all our stuff, get set up, showered, something to eat, go to bed, get up in the morning, dry/air everything out, pack the bikes and head off again. About a 2 hour process each time. It can also be a bit disconcerting to be surrounded by lots of posh caravans with top-of-the-range gear (satellite dishes and lawnmowers!) and beautiful people with us in our minuscule tent – and then to see our neighbour saunter by our tent at 8am in her pink silk dressing gown for a shower while I am shuffling around our patch looking like a scarecrow coming off night duty….oh the sacrifices we must make to do it all on bikes! On the plus side it’s lovely to just chill out in the open air for an hour before bedtime in the sunshine by the beach or in a forest – and we have only had 2 instances of having to pack up in a rush because of rain.
So back to our journey…from Witmarsum, we headed towards Leeuwarden (European City of Culture 2018 and capital city of Friesland region) wearing full-combat rain gear. It poured for a couple of hours which wasn’t pleasant, but at least our rain gear works!
Decided to have an early tea break to warm up so took refuge in Franeker – and who did we meet there but Mrs. Pink Dressing Gown??! I’m sure there’s a message there somewhere. Regardless, we had fantastic coffee and cake here to warm us up.
From there we went to Leeuwarden where we had a lovely lunch people-watching by the canal. We sat outside a restaurant with rugs over us – and had the best frites EVER. The city itself is lovely – like a mini Amsterdam, but more chilled. After lunch we headed towards for Drachten – and found a campsite at the back end of a remote farmyard. Landscape-wise the scenery wasn’t the most interesting on this leg of the journey, and Drachten itself didn’t have much of interest, so next day it was onwards towards Groningen, with a quick detour and breakfast stop at Beestrzwaag, which was a cute little place. Going into Groningen around lunchime we clocked it was 20 degrees, so we parked up in a shady spot near the square which had a huge market going on – so great for people watching. A big student population there so lots of activity – and lots of bicycles, so we fitted right in! Dutch meatballs for me for lunch and eggs for Nigel (and bread of course, as everything in this country is served with bread!). Our afternoon cycle from here was really lovely – through a world heritage wetland site (Foxholstermeer) in warm sunshine, where we ended up at Meerwijck at a lovely little campsite by a beach. Beers and dinner on the beach which was a perfect end to an perfect day.
Our last day in Holland as we headed off towards Leer in Germany. Not the most interesting cycling and crossing the border into German was a bit of a non-event – we’ expected at least a ’Wilkommen in Deutschland’ sign and in the other direction something similar for Holland, but, no, nothing other than a sign with a D – we we’re a bit disappointed to say the least!
It is interesting how quickly you realise you are in a different country – things just change gradually such as house styles, driver behaviour and quality of the roads, which are surprisingly bad in this part of Germany. Just to say that before we got to the German border we had fantastic fried cod from a fish van parked outside a supermarket in Beerta. We were cold and hungry getting this far and this little fish van parked outside the Coop was a sight to behold.
Holland you have been good to us, and here are our top takeaways, in no particular order:
1. Most gardens have one or both of a flag pole and a sun dial – don’t even think about putting a flag out on the wrong day, ask Simone what happens!
2. Anyone who says that cycling in Holland is easy has obviously never been there cycling! Yes they have great cycle paths, yes it’s really flat and yes the drivers a courteous, but the wind is a nightmare if you are pedalling into it as we have been. It’s like one continual hill! Especially difficult with panniers which act like wind breaks, so we feel quite chuffed that we have managed 60km+ each day.
3. Apart from hills, the landscape has everything – commercial seaside resorts, sand dunes and quiet pastel cycling party’s, wetlands, forests – honestly it has something for everyone. Well worth a visit.
4. Supermarkets don’t serve cold beers…
5. People are genuinely lovely and here’s a perfect example: we got ourselves onto a bit of a main road and didn’t really notice to be honest until a little old man pulled up in front of us, got out of his car and started pointing. He got that we were just stupid tourists, so followed behind us with his hazard lights flashing, until we got onto a cycle track and then waved us off. His good deed done for the day!
6. Bread…every breakfast and lunch meal seems to come with bread. Not recommended for coeliacs or those on low-carb diets 🙂
7. Bairbre, Simone and Annemarie…every country should have such great hosts.
8. True to stereotype, everybody in this country cycles and it is a sight to behold. All ages, shapes, sizes all on bikes – and it‘s not all fitness related. It’s as much to get around as it is to keep fit. Every country could learn from the Dutch in this way, but to be fair they have the cycle networks to support it.
So that’s it. Holland we wlll miss you – you have been a great start to our adventure and we will definitely be back!