Catching the Harwich-Hook of Holland ferry and to Vianen for King’s Day
After a few more relaxing days catching up with friends in Northampton, we headed east through leafy, spring Suffolk in the direction of Harwich, the inaugural stretch of our long journey to the land of the midnight sun. We stopped to enjoy our lunch on a pleasant bench surrounded with fluffy ducklings overlooking a pretty river in the small town of Nayland, snuggled in Dedham Vale. From here we continued on to overnight near the port of Harwich at a small commercial aire in the village of Ramsey, where we overlooked neatly cultivated fields and a white windmill.
There was only a short drive to the ferry terminal and we were boarded by 8am, snoozed and read our way across the sea on the practically empty boat, before we rolled off the ferry in Hook of Holland just after 5pm local time. We drove an hour east, through the busy, stop-start rush hour traffic around Rotterdam, to reach the quiet village of Vianen, around 15km south of Utrecht. We parked up alongside eleven other motorhomes in a mixed use car-park designated as a free motorhome aire, then we went for a quick local explore on foot.
We were on the eastern outskirts of Vianen near a large, wide canal, but only a short walk west to the pretty central street of this quintessentially Dutch town. The beautifully neat, well-kept brick and stone-faced buildings impressed us, as did the pretty setting on the river, with its huge willows drooping just enough to tickle the softly flowing water. We walked through the 15th century city gate, a square four-storey brick tower, to reach the centre. The main street was set up in preparation for a loud evening and a full day of festivities, with stalls, music systems and street urinals ready to serve the expected crowds. There were few people around during our exploratory walk, but later in the evening, when the sun had gone down, the volume increased and the King’s Day Eve revelry could be clearly heard for miles around.
The following morning it was officially Koningstag, King’s Day, a national holiday in the Netherlands and an opportunity to party. The weather was dry, with blue skies but rather chilly, so we decided to cycle into Utrecht to experience the mood. Our cycle route included a short, maybe 150m, ferry ride across the river Lek, that took only a few minutes. Most areas or villages we passed were partaking in the nationwide craze for vrijmarkt, the free market, at which they hoped to sell their tatty, used items, like the world’s largest car-boot sale. Koningstag was also the ideal opportunity for oranjegekte, orange madness, a kind of dance-music and alcohol fuelled frenzy, where everyone wears the national colour to brighten up the obligatory street party. We had both followed suit and dressed in orange for our cycle, to fit in with the crowds and feel part of the day.
We cycled a rather indirect route to the centre, taking a few wrong turns on the multitude of available cycle paths, taking around 17km to reach Utrecht central train station. We locked up our bikes on a small rack on a quiet nearby street rather than in the midst of the many thousands of bikes stacked up in sprawling manner down a multi-tiered central aisle. We walked around the bustling centre, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the sights.
We saw many varied scenes, from a line of fluffy, fearless ducklings crossing our path, party boats filled with dancing girls gliding down the canals, the medieval Cathedral of St. Martin and the Dom Tower, and even a giant version of Gerrit Rietveld’s famous red and blue chair, celebrating 100 years of the De Stijl art movement. It suddenly rained heavily for a few long minutes, clearing the once busy streets of people, before quickly drying up and allowing the street selling, music and festivities to begin once more.
We returned to collect our bikes and headed back south by a different route, covering an even longer distance on our return due to closed cycle lanes caused by construction works, taking 23km to arrive back in Vianen. We called in briefly to browse another large vrijmarkt in Nieuwegein before arriving back to Benny. We later had a brief walk around the town at dusk, enjoying the light on the river, before settling in to relax for the night and to plan our next steps.