Category Archives: Netherlands

6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost?

6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost?  A look at our spending, activity and overnights stats by month and by country. 

So, our 2017 Scandi trip; it wasn’t quite six months, but close – We had a total of 170 days away, from late-April until mid-October.  We left the UK via Harwich to Hook of Holland and travelled through the Netherlands to Germany before reaching our first Scandinavian country, Denmark.  A month there (to the day) and we ferried over to southern Norway to drive a wiggly route by fjords, mountains and tunnels to reach Trondheim, where we headed east to Sweden.  We crossed to the Baltic coast before turning north to eventually reach Juoksengi and our midnight time-travelling Arctic Circle Swim. From here, a straight run north to Tromso was followed by a visit to the Vesteralen and Lofoten islands, before turning sharply south all the way to Oslo.  We crossed back to Sweden and, via many lakes, we reached Stockholm then followed the coast to Malmö and back into Denmark.  A few further weeks exploring then led us back into northern Germany and the Netherlands, before heading home by the same route.

Our route map (sketch)

SCANDI TOUR - Route map sketch

Our Scandi trip overview in key figures:

Length of trip – 170 days
Countries visited – 6  (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland)
Overall expenditure – €5419.37
Average daily cost – €31.88
Miles driven – 9087 ( Aaron – 4452 [49%], Nicky – 4635 [51%] )
Miles per gallon – 31.3
Cost per mile – €0.17p
Distance cycled – 596km
Distance walked – 619km
WorkAways undertaken – 4
Time-travelling swims – 1
Scandi Skinny dips – 16

Our Trip costs by category

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

The above image outlines our spending for this trip.  With the distance driven (9087 miles), it is of little surprise that diesel for Benny (29%) has been the biggest expense we encountered, closely followed by food shops (inc. booze) at 27%. The next largest cost, at 18%, has been our campsite fees, with many more stops in ASCI campsites than on previous trips.  Transport costs also featured highly, at 12%, as driving through Norway brought with it the necessity of many ferry journeys and also 953 NOK (billed so far) of road tolls.  Several bridges between neighbouring Danish islands also carry a hefty cost.

Our trip costs by country (with daily averages)

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Note: Germany and Finland costs are not indicative of travel in those countries as both were transition countries where we filled up with diesel and undertook large food shops.

Our trip costs by month, with accommodation, exercise & driving stats

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Our Accommodation / Stopover synopsis

We stayed in free aires where we could, but on this trip we were a lot more inclined to slip into the comfortable ease of a campsite when the opportunity arose.  Certain key places demanded it (Råbjerg Mile, Flåm, Melkevoll Bretun) but others we chose over available nearby free stops as we were passing during ASCI-applicable dates. We still only paid for around one third of our nights away, the rest being either wild camps or free aires.  Our take on the difference may be specific to us, but we only rate it as a true wild camp if we have found it ourselves without the CamperContact app (or similar).

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Accommodation pie chart – percentage of stays in each type of overnight stop

Almost two-thirds of our overnight stops were free (65%, or 111 out of 170 nights), with the remaining stays averaging out at a cost of €5.63 per night.  (a €957.07 total spend).

In summary, for the entire trip, from when we left home to our return all those months later, we spent a grand total of €5419.37, for an average daily cost of €31.88.  At current exchange rates that means the entire 170-day trip cost us around £4825.00, or, simply speaking, under £5000 all-in, which is much less than we had expected after all the horror tales of scandalous Scandinavian prices.  Back in our salaried years, we had on occasion spent more than that on a special two week holiday, so to be able to experience over 24 weeks of such varied, interesting and fun travel for a similar amount – bargain.

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Holland – Gouda & Delft

Our final city visit on this tour to beautiful Gouda & a flying visit around the centre of Delft before returning home to reflect on our six month tour. 

The next morning started brightly, with the unfamiliar sun lighting up the edges of the clouds and highlighting the tawny autumn leaves.  We left the spacious aire in Dalfsen and retraced a few miles back to Zwolle and beyond, heading along fast wide roads past our previously haunt of Utrecht and on into the centre of Gouda.  We bagged one of the spots with free electricity in the town’s €8 per night aire at Klein Amerika, checked we could pick up the nearby library’s Wi-Fi from Benny (yes) and then we readied ourselves for a visit into town.  During our drive the rain had sneakily returned, defying all forecasts, so we waited a while until we spotted a break in the deluge and quickly wandered over the bridge across the canal leading into the historic centre.

Gouda (cheese shop)

Gouda (cheese selections)

Despite the grey, wet day, we took an instant like to Gouda.  There were local flags lining the pretty streets and it had a quiet buzz, a tranquil busyness that stoked our interest.  We stopped in to taste lots of cheeses in the specialist store we passed, with flavours from liquorice to smoke to chili to lavender to wasabi.  The brightly coloured cheese-blocks ranged from rainbow to solid black, from green to blue to red to white, depending on the flavours and spices added prior to the aging process. We decided very early that it was so pretty that we would spend a second night here, so we slowed up and took our time, looking into every small nook and cranny we passed on each lovely street.

Gouda (bridge and canal)

Gouda (market square)

Gouda (a in main square)

We circled the very large Sint Janskerk church, flanked by narrow canals and cobbled streets, before reaching the main square dominated by the gothic town hall, set alone in the centre.  The square was really a wide triangle, coincidentally (or perhaps deliberately?) shaped like a giant wedge of cheese.  On Fridays during summer months it hosted a large cheese market with sellers and suppliers wearing traditional costumes, but on our visit it was almost empty of people.  The edges were lined with the covered seating areas of restaurants and cafés, some with watching customers, but mostly quiet.  Red and white painted shutters lined the façade of the Town Hall and were repeated throughout the city on many buildings, including the tourist office that housed the Gouda Cheese Museum.

Gouda (central square town hall)

Gouda (a at town hall)

Gouda (lion and buildings)

The following day we did more of the same, simply wandering around quiet back streets. We visited the Gouda Cheese Museum where we watched a short video on how the local cheeses are produced, from cows in the field to shelves in the shops.  We saw the equipment used over the years and how it brought prosperity to the region, and the political and commercial implications of when the crown, seeing the wealth of the suppliers grow, decided that cheese needed to have its own tax applied. We bought a few small items as gifts as we wandered, feeling glad to have had this one last, very lovely stop on our tour, as after the traffic mayhem of Germany we had thought our travels over and all we had left were the miles home.

Gouda (cheese museum poster)

Gouda (in cheese museum)

Gouda (nicky in clogs)

That night, our last abroad on this trip, we sought out a specialist craft beer bar we had read about, called Biercafé De Goudse Eend.  When we arrived we were the only customers except for one other, so we sat at the bar and chatted to the barman and owner Jeroen.  We tried a selection of beers and made many unsuccessful attempts to beat the challenge of moving a bottle opener over a metal strip shaped like the skyline of Antwerp without contact.  We learned about the history of the bar, with its ever-growing collection of rubber ducks, and grew slowly sozzled with the bar and chilled atmosphere.  The bar busied up very quickly later on, with many more beer aficionadas arriving to join the chat.  It was a great night to top off our travels and leave us with lasting memories of Gouda.

Gouda (church building)

Gouda (nicky with pub games)

Gouda (in Goudse Eend piub)

The following morning we rose early, heads a little fuzzy, to pack up for the last time on this trip and head to the Hook of Holland.  We were only an hour or so from the port, so we had plenty of time to spare before our afternoon crossing.  On the way we decided on one last flying visit, and called in to see Delft.  Other than being synonymous with blue and white pottery, we knew very little about the town.  After a struggle to park, and then with no means to pay for a ticket as neither cash or Visa cards were accepted, the parking attendants let us off if we promised to only be an hour.  We would, so that was a bonus.  We walked along a canal into the main square, seeing several churches and the impressive town hall, amazed by the scale of the main square and the beauty of the surrounding streets.

Delft (town hall view)

Delft (central buildings)

Delft (cheese tulips and pottery)

Delft (a on canal bridge)

We had a rather boring and rocky six-hour ferry trip, arriving into Harwich port just after 8pm.  After a winding queue through the port and customs areas, we broke free and drove around 10 miles to the nearby village of Little Bentley and parked up in the empty car park of the Bricklayers Arms.  After confirming it was fine to stay, as they are a BritStops listed pub, we spent a lovely two hours drinking with Liz, the proprietor and owner.  We were the only customers in the bar during our stay, and we couldn’t help but draw a comparison to the previous night’s bar in Gouda, so very different but so similar too.  The following morning, excited to be back in the UK, we headed off to meet up with friends, our Scandinavia trip now at an end.  It would be some time before we could process all we had seen over our incredible trip, almost six months of travel, with such a variation of experiences, scenery and activity.

Holland – Groningen & Dalfsen

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.

Groningen - climbing wall

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.

Groningen (wildlife table)

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.

Groningen (church street)

Groningen (Art museum)

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.

Groningen (art installation)

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.

Groningen (central markets)

Groningen (Princehof gardens)

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.

Dalfsen (mushroom)

Dalfsen (windmill)

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.

Dalfsen (church)

Dalfsen (treeline moon)

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.

Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost?

Our first year full-timing in a motorhome – how much did it cost? Here’s a look at the costs, annual and daily, associated with our chosen lifestyle choice. 

(4th September 2016 – 3rd September 2017)

It’s been a full year now since we took the plunge, leaving our professions, friends and family behind for life on the road.  We thought it might be useful to others who may be considering a similar lifestyle change to see, for their planning purposes, how much we’ve spent over a full year, and on what.

Of course, what we’re happy with on the road may not suit you, and vice versa, so we should say first that our spending levels are absolutely personal to us.  Our costs are at a level we’re comfortable with, and they suit our current financial situation; but everyone is different.  If required it would be possible to live on much less, with patience and frugality.  And it would certainly be very easy to spend much more too, if eating out, guided trips and expensive attractions are what interest you on your travels.

We like cooking, so eating out only very occasionally is fine for us.  Most of what we really enjoy doing is free, like hiking in the mountains, wild swimming, cycling off-road or running trails.  The one big exception to this is skiing, which is definitely an expensive week (or two) whatever way you look at it, even if bringing your own accommodation helps reduce the costs a little. We like seeing cultural sites too, but we’ve learned to be selective, as paying into every church, museum, fort, gallery or other attraction we pass would be exorbitant.  We have occasionally volunteered our time at WorkAway projects and these social, volunteer efforts offer a variation that invigorates us, offers a welcome change of scene and keeps our costs for that time at a minimum.  We also have a few winter house-sits coming up which will enable us to live a more rooted, normal life for a time, and allow a more detailed exploration of specific portions of rural France.

General Overall route – Europe map:  (red – first six months, blue – current Scandi tour)Route map - all trips

More detailed country Route Maps: (paper maps marked up by hand)

Our travels during our first year were split into two long trips of roughly six months (France, Spain & Portugal) and five months (Northern Europe and Scandinavia) respectively. We had a month or so in between where we returned to the UK for servicing, maintenance and a catch-up with friends and family.  We sneaked in a quick two week trip to Scotland (no map) during this time too. The Scandinavia trip is still on-going as our ‘one year on the road’ anniversary has fallen mid-travels.

We have tracked all our costs and distances as we travelled, noting down spending and mileage counts at driver changes or stops as they occurred.  We added these to a bespoke spreadsheet set up to record, count and analyse our activities month by month and county by country.  Synopsis tabs with some complex formula then collate each category into, hopefully, easy to understand tables or charts, for a quick overview.  Yes, indeed we do have too much time on our hands.

France / Spain / Portugal trip:

COSTS - FranceSpainPortugal

Scotland Trip:

COSTS - Scotland Tour

Scandinavia Trip:  (note: still on-going)

COSTS - Scandi tour

After the completion of our first six month trip we tweaked the spreadsheet categories a little, adding in new columns to allow for a more accurate breakdown of our spending. This meant the spend percentages between each portion of the trip were not perfectly aligned, but the spend totals remain unaffected and it’s these we have used for this post.  We also added in a column for type of accommodation, to track where we spend our nights.  Here’s a typical (actually, untypically expensive) month from our current spreadsheet (June 2017) , for interest.  (note our serious lack of cycling in Norway!)

COSTS - June 2017

FACILITATING COSTS:
Outside the daily costs of living on the road we also had many one-off or annually reoccurring costs that enabled the trip to proceed initially.  (note: these are all included in the totals and are shown here purely as examples of other costs that you will / may incur)

COSTS - Facillating

This doesn’t include purchasing our Benny (a new Benimar Mileo 201) in the first instance, so the cost of your chosen van, whether new or used, should also be factored in here.  All our ferry costs to and from mainland Europe, or within each country are included within the daily cost totals under the category ‘transport’.

We tracked everything in euros, as this was the predominant currency of our first six months and it made sense to continue with the same base.  All Scandinavian currency spends were recorded in euros at a fixed exchange rate, that of what it was when we first entered the country, so there may have been some fluctuation in value during our time (in either direction) that we didn’t capture.

Our annual totals by portion of year:

COSTS - synopsis table

 This equates to (at current exchange rates) an approximate spend of £13354.00 for our first year travelling in Europe, or an average spend of £36.59 per day, all in for us both.

On the Road spending pie:

COSTS - On the road spending

FOOD – Food from a supermarket/shop. Includes wine & beer, but not eating out
FUEL – Diesel for Benny
LPG – Propane gas for cooking, heating and running the fridge when not on sites
TRANSPORT – Tolls, vignettes, ferries, bridges, public transport & day parking 
EATING OUT – Eating & drinking in restaurants & bars (includes snacks & ice cream)
OVERNIGHT STAYS – Cost of sites, aires or parking overnight, where a cost applied
CLOTHING – This includes personal items such as clothes & shoes and laundry costs
ENTRY FEES– Entry fees for museums, galleries, castles, cathedrals and other events etc..  
MISC. – All other items not separately designated (from stamps to ski passes)

If we removed all the up-front facilitating costs and only looked at expenditure on the road, we are spending under €950, or £870, per month, and for the incredible experiences we’re having and the beautiful places we are seeing, this seems like a very good deal to us – long may it continue.

Netherlands – Emmeloord & the Tulip Route

Leaving Vianen and the aftermath of the King’s Day celebrations behind, we drove a smooth motorway route east and north.  Like the houses and towns, the countryside was so organised, neat and ordered.  Rural Netherlands was like a super-tidied version of Norfolk; flat and straight lines, with no sign of litter, broken fences or overgrown grass anywhere.  Farms and workshops had tidy, clean yards and spotless tractors cruising around in orderly fields.  It was almost a little too neat, like a Stepford version of how flat, rural landscapes should be.

Emmeloord (arrival)

We arrived at our chosen aire, Camperplaats Emmeloord, where we parked up and soon met the charismatic owner, Joop, who happily welcomed us to his smallholding and answered our questions about the area.  We had a look around the cute little shed acting as a well-stocked honesty shop, the quirky outside shower and the tiny long-haired horses, feeling comfortably at home in our new, interesting surroundings.

Emmeloord (camping)

After settling in, we readied our bikes and tootled off into the nearby town of Emmeloord, around 6km away, to pick up some fresh provisions.  There were flat, easy cycle paths the entire way, set adjacent to the road, all with their own traffic lights and fully integrated into the normal traffic flow.  Where the cycle lanes necessarily crossed a road, the bicycles had right of way and cars stopped, which was proving hard to get used to, and we had a few awkward stand-offs with cars before learning to just get on with it and accept our superiority on the road.  The local Lidl was awash with cyclists, all filling paniers with their shopping, or using their bikes as transport trollies for heavier items.

Emmeloord (cycling past tulips)

Emmeloord (tulip rows)

Later we walked out to the nearby golf course, to check out a strange steel sculpture on the edge of the greens and to watch the sun set over where we were parked. We found a local map in the honesty shop showing a 106km long ‘Tulip Route’ set out for drivers to follow to maximise their exposure to the locally grown tulip fields.  We decided to cycle the noted route, or at least a good portion of it, the following morning. The weather forecast told us it would be sunny with light cloud all the following day, with no chance at all of any rain; perfect.

Emmeloord (translucent white tulips)

We woke up, inevitably, to the sound of pattering rain, out-performing the loud cacophony of bird calls overhead and the excited roosters nearby.  Optimistically, we took this as a good sign, assuming the forecast was wrong simply due to the wind dropping significantly and not clearing the clouds.  We waited a few hours before heading out and were soon rewarded for our patience with patches of breaking sun and light cross winds, making the kilometres melt away easily as we explored the flatlands.  We passed huge clusters of fields planted up with tulips in myriad of colours, stopping frequently to look and photograph, keeping pace with several cars following the same route.

Emmeloord (n with tulips)

Emmeloord (n photographs the tulips)

We followed the Tulpen Route for 35km, before we cycled off-piste, to first visit the town of Urk and then to find ourselves a sea view for our lunch stop.  We crossed over to the western edge, overlooking the Ijsselmeer, where we sat on the rocks in the shadow of the hundreds of wind turbines, both on land and in the sea, that lined the coast to eat our lunch.  The grassy banks of the polder’s edge would have made a more comfortable and raised viewpoint, but they were besieged with annoying, persistent flies that the salty breeze at the water’s edge kept at bay.  We headed north along the coastline, the elegant, white wind turbines offering an entirely different vista that the neat, flat fields of vibrantly coloured tulips inland.

Emmeloord (dry fields adn turbines)

Emmeloord (coastline)

The tulip first appeared in the Netherlands from Turkey in the sixteenth century.  Through its immediate and immense popularity, the commercial growing of tulips in the region exploded.  The north east polder area, where we were exploring, was declared dry in September 1942 and turned into viable agricultural land soon after. Tulips were first planted in the 1960s, with over 1900 hectares now given over to bulbs and one billion flowers grown for market each year.  Specialist growers, called ‘forcers’, also chill or freeze bulbs throughout the summer, to later transfer them to a warm greenhouse and artificially trick them into growing on demand, providing a means of supplying marketable tulips all year around.

Emmeloord (lunchspot)

Emmeloord (tulip arrangements)

We returned to the officially designated route and continued to pass many more fields of orange, white, yellow, purple and red tulips.  There was a nagging feeling we were perhaps just a week or two late to the party, as many fields were now ploughed and reset, and the spaces between colourful patches of flowering tulips became greater.  We saw a few tractors that we thought were cutting tulips for market but were actually simply beheading them, whether dead-heading to encourage future growth or undertaking to collect petals for some other purpose, we weren’t sure.

Emmeloord (orange camper and tulips)

Emmeloord (tulip fields)

On our return back to base we both enjoyed a refreshing, lukewarm blast in the camp’s al fresco shower, our modesty maintained only by a shoulder height double boarded timber fence.  It was an exhilarating change to be able to shower and enjoy the fresh air and rural views simultaneously.  With over 85km of cycling completed and with us fully invigorated and clean, we settled in for the night and carbed up with a huge pasta dish and a few glasses of red.  In all, we had a wonderful day exploring in the fresh air and flat, colourful fields of this very pretty corner of the Netherlands.

Emmeloord (tulip panorama)

 

Netherlands – Vianen & Utrecht

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.

Nayland (Lunch spot)

Vianen (canal bridge)

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.

Vianen (free aire)

Vianen (city gate)

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.

Vianen (main street)

Vianen (streetscape)

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.

Utrecht (cycle route ferry)

Utrecht (cathedral)

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.

Utrecht (riverside cycling)

Utrecht (de stijl chair)

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.

Utrecht (party boats)

Vianen (street party)

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.

Birthday tulips in Amsterdam

Nicky hinted at wanting tulips for her birthday, so I very romantically obliged with a last minute whirlwind trip to see tulips in their natural habitat (not really as it was planned a while back, but I’ll take the plaudits where I can).

A leisurely birthday morning began with welcome sunshine, a quick drive to Luton and an easy hop over the channel to Schipol airport. Direct from here, an unexpectedly long queue and eventually a bus to Keukenhof Gardens, located just outside of Amsterdam in Lisse.

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An obviously popular place, with huge crowds drawn by the day’s welcome sunshine and the short window of availability (open only 7 weeks per year in Spring) to see the extensive flower displays in the park. With 35 hectares and over 7 million planted bulbs the overall experience, vista after colourful vista, is simply overwhelming.  Several hours of blissful wandering and more than a few photos later we had a picnic lunch sat by a lake away from the crowds, taking time to reflect on all we’d already seen. And we’d still not yet made it to the city proper.

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After saying goodbye to Keukenhof, a bus and train later and we arrived at Amsterdam South. From here we decided to walk to our hotel in the Museum Quarter, through a very pretty, tree lined residential area.

After a bit of chill time in our room we headed out for an explore locally, before finding the inevitable Irish pub for a welcome pint and a very decent birthday meal.

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Early next morning we found a local bike hire store (Mac’s) and hired robust three-gear city bikes to begin our wider exploration of Amsterdam.  Vondel Park was our first destination, with lots more tulips and lakes to enjoy. We cruised gently alongside expert locals who zoomed along, weaving through traffic made up of pedestrians, joggers, skaters and the occasional horse. The upright position felt slightly alien to us mountain bikers at first, but proved efficient and comfortable with a little time in the saddle. Perfect for sight-seeing in the sun.

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We doodled a loop of the city, zigzagging around backstreets and canals with many stops to take in the sights. The Anne Frank house, the Northern markets, de Oude Kerk church, Science Centre NEMO on to Molen de Gooyer windmill where we stopped for lunch.

tbc