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Travels in the Netherlands Summer 2016 PDF Printable Version E-mail

Travels in the Netherlands Summer 2016

PictureAt Camping Jagtveld near the Hook of Holland

​Margaret Williamson
June & July 2016

See also, in this websiteGuide to Dutch Cycling

For pictures of cycling in the Netherlandsclickmagbazpictures.com/cycling-in-the-netherlands

Across the North Sea

The Netherlands is the furthest north now reachable by ferry from the UK, with a choice of three routes - Newcastle-Ijmuiden (near Amsterdam), Hull-Europort Rotterdam or Harwich-Hook of Holland. We've used them all and find this a good way of avoiding the drive to Dover and the problems surrounding the Channel ports. The voyage from Newcastle or Hull is overnight but sailing from Harwich offers the choice of a daytime crossing (dep 9 am, arr 5.15 pm Dutch time). Booking ahead with the Camping & Caravanning Club gave us a Flexi-Fare for the price of a Standard Fare less 10%, AND a free outside cabin (saving more than the Club's annual membership fee)! Probably the Caravan Club has a similar offer but we're not members. The two Stena Line ships on this route are the world's largest passenger ferries - and very comfortable too.

​​Welcome to the Hook

Hook of Holland is a small town with two campsites - but no parking for campers at the port. Our site, Jagtveld, was not ideal for Brits fresh off the boat (pay € cash on arrival, reception closed by 5 pm, very small touring area) but we had booked ahead and were let in. In the new luxurious facilities building, the bottle of washing up liquid that I forgot vanished in 5 minutes before returning for it (our first campsite theft in over 30 years). And the WiFi for which we paid €10 was used for less than half an hour because it immediately produced a Browser Hijacker virus. This took the combined and protracted efforts of Barry and our computer-guru Rebecca several days to eradicate. Of course we complained to Reception and, of course, this had never happened before, was nothing to do with them, and there was no question of a refund. No, we won't be returning to Jagtveld.

But there is much to love about the Netherlands and we are regularly surprised at the lack of British tourists and campers. There are no language problems (unlike France, even if you speak French!), as it's hard to find a Dutch person who isn't extremely fluent in English, and no motorway or bridge tolls (again, unlike France). The scenery may not be dramatic but it is far more varied than the typical view of tulips, canals and windmills. There are coastal islands and inland forests, farming villages and historic towns. And there is nowhere easier or better for cyclists.

PictureGun Emplacement on WW2 Atlantic Wall
​As always, there are signed dedicated Fietspads (cycle paths) in every direction from our Hook of Holland camp entrance and we spent the next day relishing the fact that cyclists have automatic right of way, enabling everyone to cycle in safety – and they do, young and old, as a matter of course.

Riding south into town, sheltered by the dunes from the north wind, we passed some concrete remains of the Atlantic Wall (built by the Germans in WW2, stretching from Norway to the French-Spanish border). We couldn't see inside, as Bunker 2 is closed except for a special monthly tour and Bunker 1, the Atlantic Wall Museum, only opens Saturday afternoons.

A small fast-ferry regularly takes passengers across from the Hook to the Europort side of the estuary (day return €5.60, concessions €4, bicycles free) but we stayed on the north bank, with business in the town centre. We needed a supply of Euros in advance of their increasing cost, the guideboohe route on the map. It even calculates the energy you will expend and the amount of carbon diox given the coming EU Referendum. Also bought a Fietsatlas Nederland from the Tourist Office – yes, a ring-bound atlas with maps of the whole of the Netherlands showing the complete network of numbered Fietspads. Imagine that in the UK – it would be a slim volume! Published by ANWB (Royal Dutch Touring Club), price €22.95. Larger scale maps of different regions also available.
Cycling on along Prins Hendrikstraat, we saw the 30 m-high lighthouse built in 1893 and in use till 1974, then passed the extensive freight docks, until we came to the 'Maeslantkering' – a massive flood barrier that can be closed across the river. It has a visitor centre for a fee but the sky was blackening and we turned back into a fresh wind, returning to the camp on a different Fietspad route through the woods. We made it before the rain came, cycling a total of 18 km.
Our TV set will now pick up local channels (thanks to the aerial recently fitted by Dick Lane Motorhomes of Bradford). We have found four free channels here and one of them (Kro) regularly shows programmes with original English soundtrack and Dutch subtitles. A good way to learn to read some of the language, though speaking it is a different matter! British detective series are popular (eg Lewis, Midsomer Murders, Father Brown, Inspector George Gently, Vera, The Five, Foyle's War), as well as some documentaries and films.

Inland to Zevenhuisen 

In order to work on the Browser Hijack Trojan, an urgent move to a site with reliable internet was needed. I phoned the nearest ACSI Card site at Delft, which was full except for the 'Aire' outside the gates with uncertain WiFi. Success with the second site I tried, at Zevenhuisen near Gouda, just 29 miles away. It was a straightforward, if busy, drive on the A20, past Rotterdam and northeast towards Gouda. From exit 17 it was 4 miles to the village of Zevenhuisen and a further mile to the campsite in a Recreation Park by the Rottemeren Lakes.

The standard pitches lack privacy but the alternative hedged 'Comfort Pitches', each with its own private WC/shower, are almost €40 a night, so we'll just keep the door closed and be comfortable enough.

The WiFi cost €25 for 4 continuous days but it worked well throughout, on 'up to 4 devices', so served both our laptops and the smartphone. Money well spent, as the Trojan (iLividSetup) was finally defeated by HitmanPro after trying four other malware exterminators. Thanks again to our own Wily Ulysses, Rebecca.  

I did enjoy the free use of the indoor heated pool, which I had to myself for the last half hour of a morning session. The bored female lifeguard watched closely and demonstrated how to improve my stroke, in which nobody had taken an interest for over 50 years when I learnt to swim to complete the Queen's Guide award!

Cycling along the Polder into Zevenhuisen, the Fietspad is as wide as the road for traffic, and equally well used. It's a typically neat Dutch village with one supermarket (Jumbo), a street market on Thursday mornings, bank, pharmacy, school, cafés, shops and most importantly a Fietswinkel (Bicycle Shop). Delighted to find good croissants in Jumbo at €1 for a bag of four! Strawberries, cherries and asparagus are all in season and the campsite bar has a new-season Herring Party on Friday evening, offering free (cold) herrings and onions to all who buy a drink. An offer we declined, as we had a nice cod-in-parsley-sauce fish pie ready for supper. Saturday night Bingo is even easier to refuse!

Rabbits and birds abound. We listened to a cuckoo and watched the pecking order over some discarded bread. First came the jackdaws, with an alpha-male keeping the rest away, then giving in to a pair of magpies, which fled in the face of a large seagull.

PictureTown Hall in Gouda
Cycling 41 km for a Taste of Gouda

After three days of heavy showers, on a cloudy but dry Sunday morning we rode 20 km to the town of Gouda. Following traffic-free paths, then over a massive rising bridge, we somehow reached the centre, which was busy and not well signed.

We checked out the pay & display motorhome parking at Klein Amerika, on the edge of the old quarter, for future reference. It has 30 spaces (many of them empty), charges €1.70 per hour, or €8 for 24 hrs, max stay 3 days. This includes free water and dump. Some coin-op hook-ups too.

Cycling on into the historic heart of Gouda, encircled by picturesque canals and the River Ijssel, we found the huge open market square that surrounds an impressive Town Hall dating from 1438. On Thursday mornings from April through August, the square is the site of a Cheese Market that began in 1198 and still sells farmhouse cheeses and other local products, including lovely treacle waffles. Today though the square was all but empty, with nary a tourist in site. The Town Hall carillon, which chimes out the Ode to Joy every 30 minutes, reminded us that it was time for lunch. Circling the square (geometry by bicycle), we chose a café in front of the old Cheese Weighing House built in 1668 (now the Cheese Museum and Tourist Office).

Re-energised by toasted cheese sandwiches, salad, and our favourite Dutch treat of Appelkoeken (apple pie), we rode round to Gouda's other attraction, St John's Church (1552), famed for its stained glass windows. The architects couldn't build high because of the marshy ground, so made up for it by building the longest church in the country at 406 ft/123 m. It was only open to those attending services on Sundays.

For more pictures of Goudaclickmagbazpictures.com/city-of-gouda

Finally, we located the 'Green Computer Shop' on Nieuwehaven to check its opening hours in case the dreaded Trojan returned, knowing that we could park at Klein Amerika and walk in with the laptop. Happily, this wasn't necessary.

Cycling a more direct route back to Zevenhuisen, there was a frustrating dearth of indications for Fietspad numbers. Motorway development work had closed some of the paths and our destination was not important enough to figure on the signs until almost there. At one point we circled an industrial estate but eventually found a cycleway running parallel to a motorway heading in the right direction.  

Tomorrow we move on to our favourite Dutch cycling area, the forests of the Hoge Velu

To Otterlo in the Fietsparadijs (Cycling Paradise) of the Hoge Veluwe

A rainy 66-mile drive to the village of Otterlo, via motorways A20 and A12 to exit 25 (Oosterbeek), then N224 and N310. There are many campsites and mini-camps on farms around this popular area of woodlands, the Hoge Veluwe, planted as a royal hunting forest and still home to deer and wild boar. Hoge does mean 'high' and it's one of the three highest places in the Netherlands, at 33 m or 109 ft! Two years ago we camped near Otterlo on De Wije Werelt but it's a big impersonal crowded site. This time we chose Beek & Hei (= Brook and Heath), nearer to the village and much friendlier.

We have a privately hedged pitch, extremely reliable WiFi for €1.50 a day, and the company of a colony of delightful rabbits, as well as three plump free-ranging hens who supply the eggs on sale at Reception. Decided to stay for a few days, which turned into three weeks due to: (a) the EU Referendum and its aftermath that stopped us in our tracks, (b) the network of cycle routes to try, and (c) waiting for post from the UK which took two weeks!

In Otterlo (a mile away) we now know all the shopkeepers well. There is a butcher, a baker, a cycle shop, a well-stocked ironmonger's, and a small Spar supermarket/post office that kept diligent watch for our mail and supplied free coffee. A fruit & veg stall appeared twice weekly with delicious local strawberries and … yes, we like it here!  

Our good friend Peter in Huddersfield believes in the value of two surprises a day, and there were plenty to come! The best one was a £20 discount on renewing the motorhome insurance at the end of June, due to the new reversing/rear view camera fitted in England (thanks again to Dick Lane Garage in Bradford). And we don't know how we managed without it.

UK EU Referendum
As to all the other surprises, before, during and after the EU Referendum on 23 June, I am at a loss to explain or understand what is going on in our native land. The internet was essential for listening to Radio 4 and watching television (both Dutch and British) to keep up with the news – there was plenty of it, supplemented by the usual Guardian delivered daily to Barry's Kindle. So much to read and digest, to write and correspond about, to consider as the repercussions and resignations followed in quick succession. Much of our referendum correspondence with friends is reproduced on our website. We have also reproduced 23 images from 3 Dutch newspapers dated Saturday, 25 June 2016.

Coincidentally (?) on the evening of the 23rd one Dutch TV channel showed the film The Iron Lady with Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher!
The best antidote to the ensuing depression was to take to our bicycles on the fine days that punctuated periods of stormy rain.

PictureWayside Map showing Knooppunts
Cycling by Numbers from Otterlo
Armed with our new Fietsatlas, a SatNav and a good sense of direction, we could hardly go wrong following routes linking the Knooppunts (junction numbers), though we occasionally managed it. Joining up the dots is easy until someone erases or moves a dot! The routes are mostly on dedicated cycle paths through dense mixed forest or across open heath, usually with a sealed or very firm surface. There are regular maps at each Knooppunt, picnic tables and seats. Some short sections are on very quiet lanes or on a separate path alongside a busier road. And on every ride we easily found a café for a fill of Appelkoeken met Slagroom (apple tart with whipped cream) or coffee and a biscuit. Day rides don't come any better than this! During the last week of June we took four circular rides from the campsite.
To Ede & Back (24 km): On a warm and humid (28°C) Referendum Day, with thunderstorms forecast, we rode through the forest to the town of Ede, completely rebuilt after 1945. Discovered a delightful place on the market square, the 'Lunch Café de Markt', where coffee is served with a small pot of whipped cream and Advokaat liqueur, as well as the customary biscuit, for €2.20. Wonderful cakes, apple tart and salads too. We returned five days later, using a different woodland route; on both occasions returning on a more direct path alongside, but sheltered from, the main road  N304.

PictureMargaret riding to Radio Kootwijk
​To Radio Kootwijk & Hoenderlo (34 km): A rainy start riding to Harskamp, the weather clearing as we turned onto a muddy track through the woods alongside a large army transport base and firing range. A mock battle boomed out across the forest all morning. A red deer and her fawn startled by the guns stood frozen with fear among the trees. The Caravan Club guide describes a campsite near Kootwijk (listed under Appeldoorn, 10 miles away) with the usual unconscious irony: 'Military base near & explosions heard from time to time. Otherwise peaceful'! I remember a delightful site in Norway dismissed as 'OK except for noisy waterfall'. And the members rarely know left from right or east from west.

​The massive eerie bulk of Radio Kootwijk, a huge 1920s concrete building resembling an Art Deco cathedral and used as a signal station during WW2, rose up in the middle of a large clearing. The scaffolding of 2 years ago has gone, restoration complete, but it's only open to prebooked groups. The Fietspad on to Hoenderlo was more strenuous, through rolling woodland, open heath and sheltered forest, but  on smooth concrete all the way to the village bakery/café for a break before the final 10 km alongside the road to Otterlo.

​Around the perimeter of the Hoge Veluwe National Park
 (44 km): Cycled anticlockwise outside the boundary of the Hoge Veluwe (a large fenced private nature reserve with entry fee, art gallery fee, parking fee, coaches of Oriental visitors, horse-drawn carts …) Followed paths  on tarmac, as well as gravel paths through forest and moorland. Just lovely to sit under oak trees listening to birdsong, eating our sandwiches in the shade (30°C today). Passed a small Air Museum at Deelen airfield, one of Germany's WW2 bases, and had an applecake break in Hoenderlo at a little café opposite the homely Museum of Electricity & Technology. Shots again rang out from the army firing range on our way back to Otterlo. Who won?
It's so natural to cycle in the Netherlands, feeling at one with the country and its people. Primary school children have cycling lessons and we met several groups of youngsters out on the paths, teachers front and back of the line, all clad in hi-viz vests. The kids are well used to bikes, as they are carried or towed by their parents from their earliest days.

See also, in this websiteGuide to Dutch Cycling

Waiting, Cycling and an Anniversary at Otterlo
June morphed into July as we waited for a packet of post that took almost 2 weeks from England to the Netherlands! The campsite also has an excellent library, mostly in Dutch of course, but some English. I'm enjoying Sebastian Faulkes 'A Week in December'.
Still plenty of rain coming over from England (and regularly stopping play at Wimbledon). And still plenty of surprises in the news, with Cameron's resignation followed by Farage ('my work is done'), then Boris Johnson's betrayal by Gove, the emergence of Andrea Loathsome - and we're not done yet with the real-life House of Cards. Coverage on the internet, radio and TV filled our days when it was too wet to walk or cycle, while our neighbours were watching the Euro Football Championships. Sunday mornings we followed Andrew Marr, Robert Peston and Andrew Neil, thanks to a WiFi signal strong enough for filmon.com, and still nobody has a grip of the situation in any political party.
There was a 4-day Fiets Festival  in the first week of July, with hundreds of Senior Cyclists taking to the paths following pre-set routes of 25, 40 or 60 km each day, with registration fee, penants and prizes! Not being herd animals, we didn't join in but we were handed goody bags by the camp staff (one of the sponsors) just the same!

Our own rides increased in length, beyond the forest into the surrounding farmland and villages. It's a rich farming area with thatched houses and farms, horses, sheep, goats, cattle, even a donkey sanctuary with a baby donkey, and small holdings growing asparagus, cherries and soft fruit. 
A 54 km circular ride to Renkum on the Lower Rhine, remembered for the excellent pesto-mozzarella-tomato toasted sandwiches at the bakery.
A 56 km ride via Kootwijk village to Assel, where dozens of cyclists were gathered at a café by the railway crossing, then through dappled forest to Hoenderlo and home.
A 61 km ride via Hoenderlo and Beekbergen returned through the Veluwezoom National Park, where a 4-km stretch of Fietspad was signed 'Bad Path, take diversion'. A passing cyclist called 'Don't worry, it's OK, they just warn you because of insurance/health & safety rules'. It was in fact quite difficult, with some climbing through loose sand, given that we have narrower tyres than the Dutch upright bikes.
A 65 km ride (on our wedding anniversary) taking a longer route via Kootwijkerbroek to Ede, to eat at the favourite 'Lunch Café de Markt'. Returned via Ede's industrial zone (the town is bigger than it looks), with ice creams in Lunteren. Back in Otterlo, the post had arrived at last. Cause for extra celebration and chocolates!
With no further excuse to linger in our favourite part of the Netherlands, and school holidays about to invade our peace, we prepare to move on.

PictureMemorial to Canadian Dead in Otterlo
World War II in Gelderland 
The Netherlands remained under occupation from the German invasion in May 1940 until liberation by the Allies (mainly British, Canadian, American and Polish troops) on 4 May 1945, still celebrated as Freedom Day. Previously we've visited The Airborne Museum in Arnhem, documenting the failure of 'Operation Market Garden' to take the Arnhem bridge in September 1944, and the Airborne Cemetery at nearby Oosterbeek, where over 1,750 Allied soldiers and airmen lie buried. The hundred thousand inhabitants who fled the fighting in Arnhem returned 10 months later to find their plundered city in ruins.
After 'Market Garden', hundreds of Allied soldiers were hidden on the farms and sheepfolds of the Veluwe (the heathland and woods planted as a royal hunting forest) but many were discovered and 44 Resistance Fighters from Ede were shot or deported to Concentration Camps. After the war 29 of them were buried in the Mausoleum in Ede, which was built by Canadian soldiers waiting to be shipped home. They also built public gardens and restored the open air theatre while stranded in the area.  
Many towns and villages were evacuated in September 1944. In Otterlo we saw a monument thanking the Red Cross for help with the evacuation, alongside a memorial to those who fell in the Battle of Otterlo, the last fought on Dutch soil, in April 1945. Fifteen Allied soldiers died, as well as 4 civilians including an 8-year-old boy, and 70 Germans. Seewww.liberationroute.com

PictureThe Grebbeberg National Memorial
The Dutch Military War Cemetery at Grebbeberg near Rhenen
The German army invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940. The following day fierce fighting began at Grebbeberg near Rhenen, a town on the Rhine which had already been evacuated. After five days of battle the army of the Netherlands surrendered, with a loss of over 400 Dutch and 200 German soldiers, and Rhenen was destroyed. The military cemetery was formed here in June 1940, originally with a wooden cross at each grave.
Leaving Otterlo to drive towards the German border, we made a detour to visit the peaceful and well-tended Dutch Military War Cemetery at Grebbeberg (open daily 9 am-5 pm, with a large free car park). The uniform white headstones stood proudly in line, each bearing the name, rank and dates of the soldier, but they lacked the personal inscriptions that are added on Commonwealth War Graves headstones. Most of the men buried here died in the fighting in May 1940, with a few killed later at liberation in 1945.

​There was a memorial to those men who have no known grave, as well as a small museum with a wealth of information and film about the battle, though only in Dutch.

For more pictures, click: magbazpictures.com/grebbeberg-national-monument

The events of WW2 are remembered throughout the Netherlands, with annual memorial services held at Grebbeberg, Ede and other sites on 4 May (Freedom Day). And I was most impressed that an excellent 'Freedom Activity Book' for children aged 10+ was distributed (free of charge) in Otterlo while we were there, at the start of the school holidays. Part of the Peace Education Project by the Province of Gelderland, it has 28 pages full of interesting articles, quizzes and photographs about war and peace, aimed at teenagers and entirely written in English. It says a lot for the Dutch education system. My favourite story is of the Grebbeberg Zoo, which is still there, just down the road from the war grave cemetery. When the Germans invaded, the zoo director was instructed to shoot all the dangerous animals, to prevent Dutch soldiers from attack by lions or bears. He couldn't bring himself to kill a polar bear with two tiny cubs and secretly left them alive. They survived the war (how?) and their descendants are still at Grebbeberg Zoo. A nice tale!  

PictureThe Grebbeberg National Memorial
The events of WW2 are remembered throughout the Netherlands, with annual memorial services held at Grebbeberg, Ede and other sites on 4 May (Freedom Day). And I was most impressed that an excellent 'Freedom Activity Book' for children aged 10+ was distributed (free of charge) in Otterlo while we were there, at the start of the school holidays. Part of the Peace Education Project by the Province of Gelderland, it has 28 pages full of interesting articles, quizzes and photographs about war and peace, aimed at teenagers and entirely written in English. It says a lot for the Dutch education system. My favourite story is of the Grebbeberg Zoo, which is still there, just down the road from the war grave cemetery. When the Germans invaded, the zoo director was instructed to shoot all the dangerous animals, to prevent Dutch soldiers from attack by lions or bears. He couldn't bring himself to kill a polar bear with two tiny cubs and secretly left them alive. They survived the war (how?) and their descendants are still at Grebbeberg Zoo. A nice tale!  

PicturePassenger and Bicycle Ferry on the River Maas
Over the Rhine and the Waal to Oostrum for a ride to the River Maas
You are never far from sea, rivers or canals in the Netherlands (except on the Hoge Veluwe, the dry area of heathland and woods, planted as a royal hunting forest, that we had just left). Europe's largest port is at Rotterdam, where the mighty Rhine delta includes the Waal and the Maas. After Grebbeberg, we drove across the Rhine to join motorways that skirted Nijmegen, crossed the Waal  and headed for the German border at Venlo.
Reluctant to leave the country, we found one last Dutch campsite for one last cycle ride. The site in a park near Oostrum was over-expensive and rule-bound, but we stayed long enough for a 28-km circular cycle ride to the River Maas at Blitterswijk, with one last Dutch apple tart and coffee by the foot & cycle ferry jetty. Good to sit in the sun and watch the pleasure craft go by, along with incredibly long cargo barges. Surprisingly, the river is not the German border, which lies a few miles away on the far side. How they would have liked to keep control of the whole river system and Europort Rotterdam!

A Resignation Too Far

No, not Chris Evans on Top Gear (who cares, really?). After 'Call me Dave' Cameron, Farage, Boris and Gove, it's now Andrea Leadsom. Her withdrawal from the Tory leadership contest  means that Theresa May in our unelected Prime Minister from tomorrow. How about Larrie, the Downing Street Cat, for Chancellor? At least he remains.
Storms are forecast and it's time to get away – the further from the UK the better!

​Campsites in the Netherlands:

Strangers Inn, Bradfield, nr Harwich - £20 for ferry passengers (£24 for others). Free WiFi in the bar. Pub meals and breakfast available. Basic facilities. 5 miles from ferry.

Camping Jagtveld, S'Gravenzande (Hook of Holland) - €23.50. WiFi expensive. Mostly statics. Good facilities. Convenient for ferry (3 miles).

Camping De Koornmolen, Zevenhuisen, nr Gouda – ACSI Card €20 inc tax. WiFi expensive. Free sessions at indoor heated pool.

Camping Beek & Hei, Otterlo, nr Arnhem – ACSI Card €18.18 inc tax. Showers €0.50. Every 7th night free. Good WiFi at reasonable price. Excellent base for the Hoge Veluwe forest.

Camping Parc de Witte Vennen, Oostrum, Netherlands – ACSI Card rate €19.40 inc tax etc. High season, after 8 July, was way overpriced at €27.40 !! Free WiFi at café, otherwise expensive.

(continued at Travels in Germany Summer 2016)