Vicky 'n' Will's Travels

2 people. 1 dog. 5 years. Touring Europe in a motorhome. ~~~~~~~ 🧔🙋‍♀️ 🐕🚙🌍🛶🚲 ~~~~~~~ 👍https://www.facebook.com/vnwtravels/ 📽
  • Day855

    Bergen op Zoom

    October 29 in the Netherlands

    Our overnight stop here in Bergen op Zoom camperplaats will be our last in the Netherlands. Alongside 3 other vans we are squeezed into a very narrow but long motorhome bay, in a large car park, overlooking a well kept lawn planted with young Plane trees whose outer layer of bark has been all but stripped by ravens. Beyond the lawn there is a lagoon surrounded by uninspiring beige apartment blocks. The still water reflects the pale grey cloud layer stifling the sun.

    We began today's journey by driving to the local Aldi and Jumbo supermarkets to stock up on a few 'essentials' including a stack of stroopwafels and a loaf of ginger cake, which is also apparently a Dutch favourite. As we pulled into the car park Vicky squealed and Will slammed on the brakes, thinking we were about to hit something. The cause of Vicky's heightened emotion was in fact an Oliebollenkraam streetfood trailer. As she understood it oliebollen (literally oil balls; large dognut like spheres) were a New Year treat in the Netherlands, so she hadn't expected to be able to sample them. We tried out our Dutch to order 2 and instead got presented with a bag of 4. never mind, they were surprisingly addictive when sprinkled liberally with icing sugar and Vicky managed to scoff the extra 2!

    We'd phoned ahead and made an appointment at the vets for the necessary worming tablet and stamp in the pet passport, before Poppy could return to the UK. After scoping out where in Oud Gastel the clinic was, we parked up at a camperplaats in the car park of a nearby motorhome retailer, to wait for our allotted time. We'd hoped to pick up a few bits and bogs at the shop but it had very little in the way of accessories, focussing mainly on selling new motorhomes. We had a look around a few, finding one we couldn't stand up in and another huge A-Class that cost €144,000! It was interesting to see different layouts but it brought it home to us how well suited our Martha is to our needs and we didn't find one that even came close to tempting us.

    After registering at the clinic, the vet gave Poppy a cursory health check and fed her a worming tablet, commenting that he didn't see why it required a vet to do this. He then charged us an eye watering €65 for the privilege!

    We arrived at the Bergen op Zoom camperplaats in the late afternoon. It was chilly and dull so Vicky persuaded Will to stay in for a nice warm cuppa instead of fishing. He whipped up homemade pizzas and garlic bread, which we enjoyed with some red wine; our customary last meal in a country. The rain came heavy overnight, forming large droplets on the tree leaves and splatting down on the van roof as we tried to sleep. Vicky took Poppy out at 5:30am and watched the driver of a works van lean on its horn as it drove past the row of campers; charming!

    We'll upload up a 'Goodbye to the Netherlands' post soon!
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  • Day854

    Dordrecht

    October 28 in the Netherlands

    Our days in the Netherlands are numbered and our overnight stops are chosen by their distance from Dunkirk where we will catch the ferry back to the UK on Wednesday. We are now overlooking a basin off the Wantij River where unsteady looking catamaran water buses are moored. Dordrecht provides free roadside parking for a maximum of three days. We managed to nab a spot on the more picturesque side of the road where we could open our door onto the grassy bank down to the basin. There aren't too many cars passing by but there are a lot of pedestrians and cyclists. The cinema at the end of the road draws small groups and others are out appreciating the sunshine. Many dogwalkers pass close by on the grassy side and unfortunately there is evidence that many have passed before, leaving the place littered with poo, despite the easy access to bins.

    Beyond the waterbusses there is a collection of modern quayside apartments, mostly brick built with some wooden fascias and large windows. Each block looks different but they must be part of the same development as the go so well together and make a striking backdrop to the basin. Directly accross from us is Villa Augustus, an exceptional looking tower of a hotel topped with skeletal steeples made of metal bars and wire mesh. The castle like building, which is set within its own vegetable garden, used to be a water tower with pumping station, that supplied the town with mains water. It now hosts a vegetable market, bakery and book store, as well as its guest rooms.

    Vicky needed to rest so got on with some christmas crochet while Will spent a great many hours fishing. Today's clock change meant the darkness came earlier and altered the view. The pointed towers on top of Hotel Augustus were illuminated and the moon rose from behind the structure. The quayside apartments shone warm light from their array of rectangular windows, giving a cosy feel to the waterside community. The days might be getting colder and the hours of sunlight reducing but there are advantages to every season and we love night sights such as these.
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  • Day853

    Vluchthaven camperplaats, Gorinchem

    October 27 in the Netherlands

    We are plugged in to the electric point and overlooking the blue waters of the Vluchthaven from our spot in the €12.50 a night camperplaats, near the town of Gorinchem. We didn't intend to book into a paying site but Gorinchem's streets are narrow and the long, single track, tree lined, dyke-top road leading to this harbour looked more like a cycle track. Therefore, by the time we reached the barrier with the sign asking us to register at the Harbour Master's office, we weren't inclined to backtrack out of there. It did cross our minds what an excellent business strategy this was!

    We parked up between 3 other vans facing out towards the harbour mouth and the wide Boven Merwede River. The dyke formed a finger of land, dividing the river from the moorings and provided a mix of leisure craft and huge cargo barges with a place to tie up. Our position on the end also meant there was no through traffic, giving us peace and quiet.

    The clear sky produced a crisp air and a bright sun. Vicky was feeling under the weather so stayed in the van crocheting while Will fished at the harbour mouth. Earlier in the day we had treated ourselves and bought some 'drop' sweets. Like the Danes, the Dutch have a big thing for liquorice, although they call it 'drop'. Salty liquorice is the most popular but we chickened out and opted for a sweet bag with some honey flavoured ones mixed in. They weren't really anything unusual, but our tour of the Netherlands has turned into a tour for our taste buds, so we wanted to experience this flavour of the country too!
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  • Day851

    Grave

    October 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!
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  • Day850

    Doornenburg Castle

    October 24 in the Netherlands

    In contrast to nearby Germany we've hardly seen any castles in the Netherlands but today we are parked up across a field from one. Doornenburg provides 3 places for vans on 'grasscrete' side on to a quiet road. The drive here took us along the ridge of a wiggly dyke that displayed a 2.2m width limit. Martha Motorhome happens to be 2.32m wide so we were rather nervous but there didn't seem to be any other way to reach our destination. We couldn't see any pinch points and vehicles as wide as us or wider were coming from the opposite direction so we persevered and breathed a sigh of relief as we approached the sign telling us we could park overnight.

    The pitch and therefore the van slopes to the right but using the chocs on this side would make it difficult for Poppy to jump in and turning Martha round would mean that Vicky couldn't gaze adoringly out of the side window at the two beautiful black horses, so Will decides to put up with the awkward angle.

    Vicky spends the day doing odd jobs around the van and makes some more progreas organising our visit to the UK while Will heads to the canal with his fishing rods. He's getting good with all this practice!

    After a quiet night we nip over the road to explore the castle, stopping on the way to say hello to the horses, one of which Vicky is pretty sure is a Dutch breed called a Groningen. His black coat shines and his thick mane falls over his arched muscular neck. It is testament to his even temperament that he just jumps a little when Vicky accidentally electrocutes him while leaning over the live wire to stroke him!

    Doornenburg's fortification started life as a manor house in the 9th century before being converted into a castle in the 13th. Its tall rose brick walls, topped with pyramidal steeples surround an open courtyard and are themselves surrounded by a moat. Prior to the 2nd World War it underwent restoration, only to be completely destroyed by a British bombardment in 1945. A full rebuild was necessary, so although the layout is old, the structure is young. The small café was closed and there wasn't anybody else in sight so we amused ourselves with a short stroll around, taking in the vaulting horse, the anvil, large metal catapault, firepit, wooden stocks and stilts. We crossed a timber bridge to the chapel, added in the 15th century, but it too was closed. It was fun to look around and it helped distract Vicky from some of the guilt she felt for electrocuting the poor horse!
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  • Day849

    Aalten

    October 23 in the Netherlands

    Aalten's free camperplaats provides space for four vans at the end of a paved car park on the outskirts of town. On one side is a fenced field with a couple of wooden stables but the weather is grey and drizzly and the horse and pony are staying under shelter. On the other side of the road is a pancake party house and pub. Both are closed when we arrive.

    We took a short trip to Germany today to return our empty beer crate and put the deposit refund towards stocking up on alcohol free beers. We travelled through countryside and crossed the border when entering a small town with a long name; Oldenkott-Wennewick. In the Netherlands we'd got used to driving with no lines along the centre of the road. Instead there are dashes about 1.5m out from either side marking how much space drivers must allow the many cyclists. These disappeared over the border but there were at least stretches of path on one side or the other that could be used for walking or cycling. It is interesting to expose how subjectively our opinions are formed; we always think of Germany as being brilliant for bikes, but comparing its provision to that of the Netherlands there is a lot more it could be doing.

    After recrossing the border and settling into the Aalten camperplaats, we walked the short way into town. It wasn't the most visually appealing of urban areas (not helped by the dour weather) but it was clean, well maintained and the people friendly. We were a little surprised to discover that it was set on a slight slope; something unusual here in this flat country! We wandered around for a little while, dipping into a few shops here and there but nothing piqued our interest so we returned empty handed.

    The evenings are coming on earlier and as darkness fell we raised the blinds and drew the curtains to 'shut the world out'. It was only when Vicky took Poppy out before going to bed that she saw the pub at the pancake house was open. Oh well, we'll need to find another opportunity for a drink out.
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  • Day845

    Ravenhorst Camperpark, Diepenham

    October 19 in the Netherlands

    The number of free camperplaatzen are dwindling as we head south. Although the little Dutch towns we've been staying in are lovely to look around, we feel we need a change of scenery. Therefore we've taken a break from the free camperplaatzen and settled into Ravenhorst Camperpark in Diepenham for €12.50 a night with electric. The leisure batteries had been underperforming to the extent we thought we needed new ones, but since forking out a couple of euros here and there for electric hookup, they seem to have been rejuvenated.

    Ravenhorst is set amongst miles of open fields, criss crossed by canals. It has space for 20 or so vans on grassy pitches. Unlike at a campsite, there is a limit of five nights, nobody checks us in and payment is via an envelope in an honesty box. When we arrive we plan to only spend a couple of days here, but a couple turns into four as we relish the greenery and time away from the hustle and bustle of towns.

    It is lovely to have some outdoor space to call our own, so we get the table and chairs out and Poppy begrudgingly lays in the sun with Vicky. Will spends a great many hours sitting on the bank of the nearby canal, fishing. On the first day he is lucky enough to spot a Kingfisher; always a special sight. He is improving his technique and patience and usually manages to catch a few tiddlers at least, but at the end of the second day he finds himself with a huge pike on the other end of the line! He reckons it must have swallowed a little fish he'd caught and was trying to land. The thin line he is using isn't designed for fish over half a metre long and he has to play the pike very carefully, scooping it up in his net despite it being far too big. Pike are known for their nasty bite (they even have teeth on their tongue and roof of their mouth!) so Will removes the hook very carefully and returns the fearsome predator to the canal.

    With loads of walking and bike trails signed, we explore the local area by tandem. There are canalside paths and the single track roads are unbusy, many of them bordered by the great woody columns of tree trunks. When cycling between two fields we come accross an unexpected bonus; a 250 year old oak tree with a spiral staircase winding up to a large, earth covered platform in its canopy, giving 360° views of the countryside! It even has a garden bench for you to sit on and take in the sights! De Boomtuin or Tree Garden was built by artist Jeroen Kooijmans as part of 'The Non Urban Gardens; Garden of the 21st century project' back in 2014 and is free and open to the public.

    We revel in the quiet and back at the van Will bakes olive and tomato focaccia so we don't need to go to town for bread. Vicky makes use of the electric and water supply to give the inside of the van the cleaning of its life and power through the dirty washing, setting it outside to dry. It is rare we spend so long in one place and she enjoys having the time to set our little home straight.

    The nights are cold and the mornings misty. The first night drops below 1°C and the following dawn is glorious; pinky orange hues colouring the clouds before the massive pale golden circle rises behind tall trees, slotting into the vapour layer like a pound coin into a vending machine.

    When it comes time to go we both feel mentally relaxed and are ready for a bit more exploring. When the driving seats are turned around Poppy insistently pushes her way to the front and lays down between them in her travelling position. After 4 days of chilling out in her bed it looks like she is keen to see some new sights too!
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  • Day844

    Enter

    October 18 in the Netherlands

    We have entered the town of Enter (sorry, couldn't resist) and parked up in their free camperplaats. The side road we are on is quiet but on either side of the three van bays is a huge pile of sand. They are digging up the road in the residential area nearby and the street looks like a beach there is so much sand!

    On the journey here a stretch of heathland provided a change of scenery from the grassy fields and dykes we are used to in the countryside. The heather had lost its purple bloom but it was a refreshing change all the same. As we inch southwards there are a few more contours on the map, but the small rises and dips could hardly be described as hills and valleys. Corridors of tall Oaks and Beech drop their colourful leaves into the breeze as we drive through. We really do love the sights Autumn brings with it!

    Enter's camperplaats is another with a 24 hour restriction but we make the most of our time by walking into town, where we find a giant clog that features in the Guinness Book of Records. We buy a few bits and bobs from the supermarket then Will spends the afternoon fishing at the small lake nearby. There is a cute wooden boat house with what looks like a café over the water but both are closed. The sun is warm and Vicky tries to encourage Poppy to sit outside but she isn't interested so Vicky joins Will by the water with her knitting. A Dutch motorhome is parked near the lake and stays there overnight. Their view is undoubtedly better than ours but we wouldn't have risked it.
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  • Day843

    Putten

    October 17 in the Netherlands

    Putten camperplaats is nothing more than a couple of long parking bays in the town car park, but it is somewhere we are allowed to stay for free (for 24hours) and we are grateful for it. There is already another motorhome in one bay and a further one arrives after us, departing soon afterwards to find somewhere with a vacant space.

    At one edge of the car park a large old building is being gutted and modernised with all sorts of diggers, buldozers and dumper trucks. The noise isn't too bad and over the crossroads behind us is a reasonable sized patch of grass that looks as if it is frequented by many of the local dogs by the way Poppy sniffs and sniffs whenever we take her to it.

    We arrived just before lunch and checked out Trip Advisor to see if any local eateries caught our eye, but nothing took our fancy so we ate in the van before taking the short walk into Putten. To our dismay we found a sizeable market was packing up; we would have enjoyed a mooch! As it was the market-goers had flocked to the café terraces to make the most of the fine weather, sipping hot drinks and grabbing a bite to eat.

    Putten appeared to be quite an upmarket place, with high wires strung accross the street supporting fluttering ribbons. We found three shops selling yarn and craft supplies so Will managed to stock up for Vicky's christmas but apart from this there wasn't an awful lot to hold our attention.

    Back in Martha we would hear an incongruous 'baaa' every now and then. Vicky went to investigate with Poppy and found a little field next to a cemetery containing two Balwen Welsh Mountain Sheep and a few chickens. The sheep were very friendly and the smaller of the two particularly enjoyed a stroke, her little tail wagging whenever Vicky found the right spot to scratch. Their presence certainly enhanced Vicky's stay at Putten!
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  • Day841

    Huizen

    October 15 in the Netherlands

    We are spending 2 nights at the Huizen camperplaats as a come down from the excitement of Amsterdam. Martha is parked side on to the thick Beech hedge separating this long sandy van park from the tarmacced bays of a large car park, where locals unload their excited dogs for walkies. There are 8 allocated places next to the hedge but most other motorhomes are parked across the way, so their occupants can step out onto the mown grass field to our right. Its undoubtedly the better position but our experience of getting fined years back has meant we are sticking doggedly to the rules!

    There is a canal and a lake nearby that Will pootles off to with his fishing rods. Gooimeer lake is beautiful to look at, surrounded by reeds, with a large population of ducks and other wildfowl living on it. The day is hot so Will decides to take a swim. Vicky is not impressed when he returns to the van and tosses his swim shorts onto the dashboard to dry. The water body is one of many that have been cut off from the sea in order to reclaim land. Without the natural throughflow there has been a build up of sediment that is now decaying and emitting the methane gas Will's shorts smell of. (That's his excuse anyway! 😂)

    On the second day we popped the canoe on its trolley and wheeled it round to Gooimeer, holding our noses as we paddled it through the shallows and being rewarded with fresh air when emerging from a small island archipelago and onto the open water. The day was calm and the water surface smooth as glass in places. We were both in shorts and t shirt (in October!) and were one of only a handfull of boats out enjoying the lake. Bliss!

    There was a Lidl not far away so we walked there to pick up a few supplies, including a packet of Dutch stroopwafels; 2 circles of cinnamon wafer biscuit stuck together with a caramel filling. Vicky thinks she might become addicted to them, they are so delicious!

    There was a little traffic noise in Huizen but it was a good spot and we would have stayed 3 nights had it not been for the 48 hour restriction. As it was, we had a very enjoyable 2 days there.
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