Leaving Germany to visit Groningen in the Netherlands before an lovely overnight in the town of Dalfsen
From stormy northern Germany and the town of Brune, we drove across the border to the Netherlands and straight to Groningen, a town we had missed on the way through, back in late April. It was here we planned to sit out the worst of the weather and hopefully sneak in a quick city visit too. We arrived at the free motorhome aire set about 4km to the north east of the centre. There were several other motorhomes on site, but no one was parked in the designated motorhome area. It was all signed to be on grass verges that were currently ankle deep in muddy puddles; instead the vans commandeered another little-used stretch of hard-standing car-parking.
A huge yellow climbing wall with a deep overhang dominated the skyline, with several external bouldering walls and traverse climbing walls filling the park around the complex. We saw artificial pitches for football and hockey, a full indoors sports hall complete with a 25m swimming pool and a leisure pool with external slides, a go-karting track, a ski centre, a muddy BMX track, a skate-boarding park, a skating and ice hockey rink. Groups of runners floated past and a further rowdy group were, slightly worryingly, practising their archery in the car-park. There were wake-boarding tow lines and jumps set up in a nearby lake, complete with a sandy beach and swimming area with timber pontoons. The entire area was a sporting mecca, and most visitors we saw were making their way there by bicycle.
We walked into Groningen in a light drizzle, stretching out our legs and feeling good to be moving, as we’d been cooped up for too long. We crossed bridges over canals and passed neat brick houses, all looking so quintessentially Dutch. We headed to a long green park, Noorderplantsoen, to the north west of the centre and followed leaf-strewn paths through the overhanging yellow-red trees alongside pretty lakes, passing around the periphery of Groningen. We were passed by lots of cyclists and runners enjoying the park; it was good to see it being so well used, even with the atrocious weather of the day. We crossed another canal and reached a modern pedestrian centre and mall, leading us to the bottom of the historic centre and the true heart of Groningen.
We passed by the Groningen museum, a gaudy post-modern mess of building housing modern art. I always feel a little sorry for large cities who have paid a famous architect (or in this case four separate architects) lots of money for an iconic, city-defining building and end up with quickly dated, garish, 1990s monstrosity. We next passed a glass box art installation by an artist called Charlemagne Palestine. It was filled with scruffy teddy-bears and other toys, whether discarded or donated we were unsure. It was seemingly meant to be a colourful celebration of the collection, but it was more successful, maybe due to the surrounding messy leaf-fall, the grey day overhead and the persistent rain trickling off the glass, as a decrepit, messy piece exploring concepts of loneliness, sadness and loss.
The central square and side streets were host to large food markets but we (okay, I) forgot to bring my wallet and we had exactly no money at all with us, so we deviously sampled their wares but could not have bought anything even if we wanted to. Several churches framed the main pedestrian thoroughfare. We looked in at the Der Aa-Kerk and Martinikerk as we passed, and had a quick glimpse into the pretty internal food markets as we wandered by. We climbed a stage in the main square that offered views over the colourful markets. Heading north, we were the only visitors to the formal Prinsenhof gardens, the rain having driven everyone else back indoors. We found a covered area near here to sit and eat a quick lunch, watching the sheltering crowds, before making our way back east through a lovely residential area.
We returned back to Benny, after 13km of walking, wet, tired, but happy for the walk. We got the kettle on and within seconds the light drizzle exploded in sheets of torrential rain that didn’t cease for the rest of the noisy, cold, dripping night. But with our exercise done for the day and our city sight-seeing completed, we hunkered down warm inside and calmly watched the extensive volume of water falling all around us. The next morning we could see blue, and the street was dry – such a transformation. We moved off south-west, and after an hour or so of easy, clear roads in pretty sunshine we cut off to visit services in a small industrial estate in Harderwijk. From here we popped into the nearby town of Zwolle to visit Lidl for a few last items to see us home, before making our way to the town of Dalfsen to overnight.
The free motorhome-dedicated aire at the train station was empty and to our surprise came with free Wi-Fi too. We were the only van in the aire, so we had our choice of all the marked spaces. There was a large mushroom structure in the field near the aire across from the train station parking. We walked over to see what it was for, but all the available information was in Dutch. The young sheep in the field were entirely unafraid and happily approached us, no doubt searching for some tasty handouts. They nudged us with their noses to attempt to make us part with whatever goodies we might have for them, but they were unfortunately left disappointed.
From the aire we could see a windmill and a few church spires, so we decided to have a wander over to look around the town. It was a beautiful autumnal day as we walked the streets, the sun warming us and lighting up the yellows and lime-greens of the tidy trees around the centre. Immaculately kept brick buildings lined the wide cobbled streets in the town, the bright sunlight lifting the whole walk above the normal to a sublime, inviting and relaxing experience. We passed the newly constructed town hall and council buildings, its architecture contrasting with the surrounding placid feel of the neat residential streets. Later that evening we watched a bright gibbous moon rising over a line of trees, marvelling at the still, lightly chilled air; a perfect autumn evening.