GraveOctober 25 in the Netherlands
Our Martha is parked in the only motorhome bay in Grave's medium sized car park. A steep grassy hill borders one side of the area and was built centuries ago to defend the town against invaders.
We are close to the centre of town, but tucked away from any through roads, with ivy covered walls forming the other sides. In fact the car park is so well hidden we struggled to find it. Coming straight from an oversubscribed camperplaats on the outskirts of Grave, where we'd planned to stay, we turned into the main parking area. It took us a while to realise this wasn't the one we wanted but when we did, Will set off on foot to scope out the surroundings while Vicky compared photos on the CamperContact app to aerial views on Google Earth. It was here that we located our intended destination and after circling around the narrow streets a couple of times we managed to find the entrance - phew! It was solely motorhome parking so there was no water or emptying point but our efforts were made worth it by the free electric hookup and excellent access to a historic town, so we decided to stay two nights.
Many of the settlements we've visited so far have been relatively modern, so Grave, that started life in the 12th century with a castle had a different feel to it. Over the years it had been laid siege to many times, but the buildings that line its cobbled lanes are 17th and 18th century; old enough to exude a ye olde worlde character.
We made our way in with our eyes open for somewhere we could have lunch. Our time in the Netherlands seems to be drawing to a close very quickly and although we've sampled plenty of the country's sweet treats, we've not yet had many of the savoury. The streets were quiet and most eateries appeared closed so we were drawn to the open door of the Café Gouden Leeuw, a pub in the small main square. Can anyone guess what its name translates as?
We got a good feeling as soon as we stepped into the almost full front room. We grabbed one of the two free tables and asked the waiter for a local beer, accepting and enjoying their recommendation of the Brand on tap. To eat, Will chose bitterballen; little balls of mixed meat coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. Vicky went with the Gouden Leeuw special sandwich without the meat. While waiting for our food we took in the distinctive decor. The table we were sitting at had a glass covered board game inset into the dark wood and from the ceiling hung models, including hotair balloons, a witch and a jester around two grand, black metal chandeliers. The walls were pale green with handpainted decoration and canal scenes in little circles or rectangles. The colours were muted and upon closer inspection we saw a nicotine coloured wash had been applied for effect. We think the pub must be one of the Netherlands' bruin (brown) cafés. Some say they are so named because of the dark brown wood, others think it is because of the stains left on the walls from all the tobacco smoke. The Gouden Leeuw had both, so we reckoned it was a safe bet. The staff were helpful, the beer and food tasty and the vibe convivial and relaxing so we went for broke and booked a table for the following evening, when there was a 3 course special menu for €13.95.
Continuing to explore the town we dropped into the tourist information office, where we found just one leaflet in English. The level of spoken English in the Netherlands has been second to none, so it was ironic that of the two people working here, only one spoke to us and in very broken English at that.
The central area was pretty small but packed with curios. A sign advertised 'catacombs' open to the public, which turned out to be a vaulted cellar filled with a whole range of items from large painted wooden clogs to a life size models of tigers. Vicky found some loose chamomile and managed to resist scrumtious looking chocolates in a tea and chocolate shop, the likes of which seem more common in the Netherlands than in many other countries.
For the rest of the daylight hours Will found a canal to fish in while Vicky kept Poppy company. The leaflet we'd picked up from the Tourist Office advertised a Friday morning market, so this was tomorrow's daytime entertainment sorted. It wasn't a large market but it was a practical one with decent prices where we managed to pick up a whole load of foods including some Dutch runny honey, smoked mackerel and fresh strawberries. There was the obligatory cheese stall where we were given a taster and bought a wedge cut from a large round with a wire, while more rounds were delivered on an upright, two wheeled trolley generally used for shifting boxes in warehouses. There were two wet fish stalls advertising kibbeling; chunks of deep fried battered cod cooked to order. This was another Dutch speciality we had yet to try, so Will returned at midday and queued for a bag which he brought back to the van for us to share. They came with a pot of herby mayonnaise, a little like tartar sauce and were delicious!
Walking through Grave for dinner at the Café Gouden Leeuw, the town was lit up with warm white fairy lights, falling from strings attached high up on buildings either side of the cobbled streets, wrapped around pollarded Plane trees and forming a 'Historiche Grave' banner at either end of the main street. It was beautifully atmospheric!
Inside the pub there was a real buzz and ours was the only table free. After a yummy pumpkin and rocket salad for starters, Will had harvest risotto with stoofvlees (sweet-sour beef stewed in beer, herbs and mustard) while Vicky was served Victoriabaars (perch) celeriac puree and fries. The waiter kindly gave us a digestive pause before our salted caramel and chocolate tarts, which we rounded off with a glass of jenever (Dutch gin). The food was good quality and well cooked, it was a really lovely meal and we couldn't believe it cost as little as it did. Back at the van Will had a whiskey nightcap and made jam with the strawberries we'd bought earlier!Read more