Category Archives: Netherlands

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.

DCIM101GOPRO

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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